First, star defense lawyer Michele Roberts jumped from Akin Gump to Skadden. Now, less than a month after that move, another one of the few leading women white-collar defenders has decided to change firms. Barbara Van Gelder, better known by the nickname "Biz" tells Washingtonian that she's leaving Morgan, Lewis & Bockius for Dickstein Shapiro. Van Gelder says Dickstein's partners voted this week to welcome her to the club. She's still working out the details of when she'll start.
Van Gelder's stint at Morgan, Lewis was relatively brief. She joined the firm in 2007 from Wiley Rein, where she headed the white-collar practice. Originally, the move to Morgan, Lewis was meant to provide her with a broader geographic platform. Wiley Rein has offices only in the District and Northern Virginia, while Morgan, Lewis has offices all over the world. Van Gelder says she now realizes that geographic reach wasn't necessarily what she needed to boost her own practice, which has evolved to focus heavily on government contracting fraud—an area she says keeps her Washington-focused. She says that specific practice area isn't a big focus at Morgan, Lewis, and that Dickstein Shapiro can offer more built-in expertise in the government-contracting arena. Washington-based Dickstein also has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Van Gelder jokes that she feels "like Goldilocks," having gone from a small firm to an international firm to a midsize firm.
During her nearly four years at Morgan, Lewis, Van Gelder helped the firm land a high-profile recruit: her former Wiley Rein partner and White House counsel to George W. Bush, Fred Fielding. Before joining the Bush administration, Fielding had been a name partner at Wiley Rein, then known as Wiley Rein & Fielding. His decision not to return to Wiley Rein after he left the White House shocked much of the legal community.
Van Gelder says she and Fielding are still close and that his practice is a better fit at Morgan, Lewis than hers was. She also has friends at Dickstein Shapiro—another factor she says convinced her to move. Dickstein partner Deborah Kelly was Van Gelder's intern when she worked at the DC US Attorney's Office. Van Gelder remembers watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana with Kelly all those years ago. Luckily, they're joining forces just in time to catch the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.