News & Politics

Off to the White House

One boutique firm is the administration’s favorite place to find a lawyer.

Elizabeth G. Taylor. Photograph courtesy of Zuckerman Spaeder.

It’s not surprising when a mega-firm with political ties like WilmerHale becomes a recruiting ground for a President. The 1,000-lawyer firm has sent many of its attorneys into Barack Obama’s Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Treasury Department, among other agencies. But it appears that no other law firm has sent a higher percentage of partners into the Obama administration than Zuckerman Spaeder, a litigation boutique with fewer than 100 lawyers.

Leslie Kiernan was a partner at Zuckerman until August, when she became deputy White House counsel. Partner Deborah Jeffrey has been nominated to become inspector general for the Corporation for National & Community Service. Elizabeth G. Taylor left Zuckerman’s partnership to become principal deputy associate attorney general at the Justice Department. Former partners William Schultz and Lisa Barclay are acting general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services and chief of staff at the Food and Drug Administration. US ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen was an early supporter of Obama during the 2008 campaign and was the first to leave Zuckerman for the administration. Previously the President’s special counsel for ethics and government reform, Eisen was confirmed as ambassador in December.

Though they didn’t go directly from the firm into the administration, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich both practiced at Zuckerman earlier in their careers.

Graeme Bush. Photograph courtesy of Zuckerman Spaeder.

Unlike many larger firms, Zuckerman Spaeder doesn’t have a PAC or host political fundraisers, but founding partner Roger Zuckerman and chairman Graeme Bush say the firm’s lawyers lean mostly Democratic. While the firm has never previously sent so many attorneys into government, it was involved in vetting vice-presidential contenders for Obama in 2008 and Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004.

Why has Zuckerman Spaeder become such a fertile recruiting ground? Roger Zuckerman offers a possible explanation: “I went to recruit at Harvard in 1990-1991. That was Barack Obama’s class.” He hired four of the 15 Harvard Law grads who interviewed, including Obama’s friend Norm Eisen. Though Zuckerman Spaeder has been sad to see its partners go, it’s high praise for any firm to have its attorneys handpicked by the President. And there are perks: “There’s a beeline of people vacationing in the Czech Republic,” says Bush. “The ambassador’s residence has like 12 to 14 bedrooms.”

This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.