News & Politics

The NYC Launching Pad for DC Lawyers

Some of Washington’s top lawyers got their start in the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.

DC lawyers Comey, White, Canellos, Ceresney, Horowitz, and Johnson owe thanks to the Big Apple. Photograph of Comey by Pete Marovich/Alamy; photograph of Canellos and Ceresney courtesy of SEC; photograph of Horowitz by Mark Wilson/Getty Images; photograph of Johnson by Zuma Press/Alamy.

Are you a lawyer who wants to run Washington? The place to start might be Manhattan. 

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has launched the careers of Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, senators, Congress members, even Supreme Court justices. Robert Khuzami, director of the Enforcement Division at the SEC until this year, is the latest example. 

Khuzami spent 12 years at the SDNY, rising to chief of its securities-and-commodities-fraud task force. He switched teams to Deutsche Bank, then returned to policing Wall Street as the SEC’s top cop in 2009. He recently joined the DC office of Kirkland & Ellis, where he reportedly makes upward of $5 million a year. 

As Khuzami explains, SDNY alums’ success is self-perpetuating: “The office has such a tradition of excellence, and that helps continue to attract the next generation of lawyers.” 

Plus, given the SDNY’s location, the lawyers who land there handle cases that often garner national attention—high-profile Wall Street investigations, Mob cases, international terrorism. 

Finally, the network of ex-prosecutors helps one another find opportunities. Among the alumni who served in the George W. Bush administration were homeland-security advisers Ken Wainstein and Frances Townsend and Attorney General Michael Mukasey. And Khuzami was in good company representing the SDNY in the current administration:

James Comey. Just installed as FBI director, Comey was US Attorney for the Southern District from 2002 to 2003. He also was deputy attorney general under George W. Bush.

Mary Jo White. The chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission preceded Comey as US Attorney for the SDNY, serving from 1993 to 2002. She was also an assistant US Attorney in the office.

George Canellos and Andrew Ceresney. After Khuzami stepped down, Canellos and Ceresney, both former assistant US Attorneys, took over as codirectors of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

Robert Litt. An assistant US Attorney early in his career, Litt has been general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence since 2009. He’s currently dealing with the controversy surrounding surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden.

Michael Horowitz. A prosecutor in the ’90s, he’s now inspector general of the Justice Department.

Jeh Johnson. Until the end of last year, Johnson, a former assistant US Attorney, was general counsel at the Department of Defense. He’s now a partner at Paul, Weiss.

This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.