Bobby Burchfield has made his name by representing politicos in dire straights, from former Majority Leader Tom DeLay to former PA Rep. Don Sherwood when he faced allegations of assaulting a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Burchfield’s also been a go-to lawyer for Republican politicos, acting as GC to President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 reelection campaign and now as main outside counsel for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid. But he’s also a serious litigator of big civil cases, and since coming from Covington in 2004 has been the co-managing partner in McDermott Will & Emery’s Washington office.
What does it mean to be outside counsel for Giuliani?
I give occasional advice on such things as campaign filings. I’ve represented him since 1998 when he briefly ran for the US Senate, then with respect to his PAC and his filing incorporation papers for his presidential campaign last fall. But it’s not much time. He’s got a great in-house staff: Larry Levy is his general counsel, with a couple lawyers, a summer clerk, and admin. It’s modeled on what I did for the first President Bush in ’92.
Bobby points to a picture of Sydney, Australia—where he went to “get away from it all” when Bush ‘41 left office. He was climbing Ayers Rock as Clinton was being inaugurated.
What was that model?
I had three deputies, one associate GC, and a couple paralegals. We did a lot of campaign finance compliance work, but lots of other issues, from drafting presidential debate agreements and reviewing vendor contracts to defending against a Time magazine lawsuit seeking to enjoin us from using their cover in campaign materials. And James Baker and Margaret Tutweiler chose to put me on “60 Minutes” to rebut Ross Perot’s famous charge about the Republicans supposedly attempting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.
What’s your view about clients talking to the press: Edward Bennett Williams’ that they shouldn’t say anything, or David Stockman’s apparent view that they should go on a PR tour?
Most high-profile public clients can’t hunker down and refuse to take questions from the press. Legal and PR have to go hand in glove. I’m less willing to let a client talk if he’s involved in a criminal investigation rather than a congressional hearing, but even then it’s difficult for an elected public official not to comment.
With a picture from his honeymoon in Egypt: Bobby and wife, Terri, riding camels! For his 50th birthday, Terri sent Bob and five friends on a dog sledding trip in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. They also saw the Iditarod.
How do you prepare clients for Congress? “Murder boards?”
It's like preparing witnesses for a deposition, or appearances before grand juries. You review as many of the documents as you can, review all relevant statements by committee members or staff, consult with any friendly staff members, and do anything else to try to minimize surprises. Yes, we do role-playing to make sure they’re ready for hostile questions.
Why did you come to McDermott?
They pursued me primarily for my big case litigation practice. The political practice was a plus but not central.
What are some of your current cases?
I’m lead counsel for Amgen in a New Jersey antitrust case. In Detroit, I represent CNH America, a construction and agricultural equipment subsidiary of Fiat. I'm involved in two retiree health benefit class actions. I’m working on an internal investigation of a subsidiary of a Japanese company.
What don’t people know about McDermott?
We have a much larger presence here in DC than people realize. After the new associate class, we’ll be up to 270. In 2004 we had 210. We have added 15 new lateral partners this year, including Bob Dilworth from the Treasury, Paul Thompson from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Abbe Lowell from Chadbourne & Parke, and Steve Ryan from Manatt Phelps. We just added three Arnold & Porter lawyers, including Blake Rubin. People will be hearing a lot more about us.
Bobby was a presidential appointee on the board of the Antitrust Modernization Commission. Here, he shows Bisnow a commemorative display he got for his service—almost as good as getting paid.
Will the firm merge or make new acquisitions?
Historically, our growth has been from the entry level and from laterals individually or in small groups. But you can't rule anything out.
What are your best-known practices?
Antitrust, tax, energy and derivatives, and the trial litigation practice that I’m in.
What’s the five-year outlook?
We'd like to continue growing steadily, choosing our opportunities for addition of star laterals carefully. To some degree our growth in corporate and certain other areas depends on the economy. Growth in our trial practice and our government strategy group, headed by Steve Ryan in DC and William Weld in New York, tends to be less affected by the economy.
How do you divide your time?
Two-thirds practice, 1/3 management. Of the time I practice, 20% is what you might call political work.
What's been your biggest recent management issue?
Office expansion. We just took the 7th floor of our building [on 13th St.], so we now have most of the 12 floors here. It took a good bit of my time over the last six to eight months, but my Co-Managing Partner David Rogers and Office Administrator Paul Sicari shared the load. And we’re currently negotiating on the buildout.
A rare Bisnow-inspired moment of calm at the office. Get back to work, Bobby.
When did you start as co-managing partner and how long will you serve?
I started in 2004 when I came here working with Tim Waters and now with David Rogers. I serve at the firm’s pleasure. But no later than after age 63, which would be 10 years from now.
Where’d you grow up?
All over the Southeast—Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. My father worked for JC Penny and every time he got promoted we moved. I lived in seven different cities.
I run on the C&O Canal on weekends, and often go to the park with my two golden retrievers, who like to swim and fetch things—real or imagined—in the Potomac.