News & Politics

If He Returns to Big Law, Robert Mueller Will Make an Obscene Amount of Money

The special counsel can potentially count on an eight-figure payday.

Robert Mueller pictured in 2013. (Photo courtesy UPI/Kevin Dietsch via Creative Commons License.)

Based on his career thus far, Robert Mueller does not appear to be a guy who’s motivated by money. Though he’s done a few brief stints in private practice, he has dedicated the vast majority of his years to public service—including as a U.S. Marine Corps officer, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, and, of course, as the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. But if he wants it, the special counsel will have an enormous payday waiting for him at his pick of prestigious law firms whenever he finishes the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

How much, exactly, will firms be willing to shell out for him? “As high a number as the market has available,” says Jeffrey Lowe, the Washington managing partner of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “Firms that can pay $5 million will offer $5 million. If they can pay between $5 million and $10 million, that can be the number, too.” (To be clear, we’re talking about annual compensation.)

Other top DC legal recruiters agree. “Five million—I think that’s the starting point,” says the McCormick Group’s Stephen Nelson. “At least several million,” says Garrison & Sisson’s Dan Binstock, though he adds, “It could be significantly higher at certain firms.”

Before he became special counsel, Mueller had been a partner in the DC office of WilmerHale for three years, where, according to his financial-disclosure form, he made nearly $3.5 million, already well above the firm’s average partner compensation of $2,116,000. He could certainly decide to return there. The firm, headquartered in Washington and Boston, is among the most highly regarded in the District, with a reputation for sending its attorneys in and out of prominent government jobs. But the big New York-based firms—such as Paul Weiss (which pays its equity partners an average of $4,563,000), Milbank ($3,460,000), or Debevoise & Plimpton ($2,827,000), all of which have DC offices—are more likely to be able to push into eight figures for Mueller. Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis ($4,701,000) is another place known for paying top dollar, but given its current status as a pipeline for Trump officials, it seems unlikely that Mueller would go there.

So why is Mueller worth so much? For a valuable client dealing with a federal or internal investigation, says Nelson, having Mueller on their side would give them “instant credibility.” Says Binstock: “He is the quintessential crown jewel of the internal-investigations world right now. There is nobody with a better-known brand.” As such, Mueller’s services won’t come cheap. Asked how much he’ll likely be able to bill clients per hour, the recruiters offer estimates ranging from $1,500 to more than $2,000.

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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.