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November 26, 2007

Bob Bennett's
New War Stories

In 2002, Bob Bennett’s three grown daughters gave him a journal and suggested he record some stories from his legal career for them to read.  Of course, when you’ve represented Judy Miller, Enron, and Bill Clinton, your tales fill up more than a single notebook.  Bob had written out 600 longhand pages before daughter Catherine, a lawyer at the William Morris agency, told him he might have a book on his hands. Indeed he did. The finished product, “In the Ring:  The Trials of a Washington Lawyer,” hits bookstores in February.

The book’s title plays on Bob’s love of boxing.  Those are photos of Mohammed Ali above the bookshelf in his Skadden Arps office.  A former amateur boxer himself, Bob has made several trips to Vegas with friends like Jack Kemp to see big‑time prize fights.  (And, except for the Evian, doesn’t he look like a tough guy former boxer?) 

In the Ring, Bob tell us, doesn’t concern itself with dirt-dishing or gossip about courtroom foes.  (Being extremely shallow, we can barely hide our disappointment.)  Instead, because his initial goal in writing was more innocently to entertain his daughters, Bob tells about his most interesting cases—like his representation of the Zapruder family in their dispute with the government over compensation for their film of the Kennedy assassination.  There’s also a chapter on former client Gerald Bull, a foreign-born weapons genius given the almost unheard of honor of being made a citizen by act of Congress, who was later accused of selling arms to South Africa.  (Bob cut a favorable plea deal before Bull was later assassinated in Belgium.)

The resulting book is “much more interesting that it would have been if I knew it was going to get published from the start,” Bob says.  It also seems to satisfy the intellectual set.  Former Solicitor General Ted Olson and Harvard guru Larry Tribe can hardly agree on a thing about the Constitution, but they both offer up effusive blurbs.

As attorney for former NY Times reporter Judy Miller, Bob listened in to the crucial phone call in which she obtained Scooter Libby’s assurance that his waiver of confidentiality was voluntary.  A Hollywood movie inspired by the Miller affair (starring Kate Beckinsdale—a tad younger, but that’s literary license for you) was being filmed last month in Memphis (which was playing the role of Washington, D.C.).

Noted for his ability to handle the press on high-profile cases, Bob says that a key to his success is the degree of trust he’s built up with the town’s reporters.  That doesn’t mean he’s above criticizing them.  The press, he says, tends to be wonderfully cynical about government honesty, until the government charges someone with a crime and suddenly reporters believe everything the state says.  He cites the Duke lacrosse rape case as an example.  In that matter, Bob was hired by a player not charged with a crime and by a group of players’ families for the purpose of helping with the PR effort.

Bob’s office looks directly out to the Washington Monument, but at his billing rates he tries not to gaze out the window unnecessarily.  Although he doesn’t see President Clinton regularly anymore, Bob also got a nice blurb from his famous former client in L’Affaire Paula Jones.

At Skadden, Bob co-leads the 100-lawyer Government Enforcement Litigation group, which handles investigations of all kinds and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases.  Skadden just passed the 2,000-lawyer mark, with 375 attorneys in D.C.  Despite the eye-popping numbers, Bob says the firm has always grown from within, and still has never taken on more lawyers at a single time than when he and 14 others came in 1981 from his old firm Dunnells, Duvall, Bennett & Porter.

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