MIXING POLITICS AND LAW
Peter Scher, Partner-in-Charge
Washington, DC, office, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw
Peter has been at Mayer Brown since 2000, and was appointed head of the office in March of this year. In 2004, he served as Campaign Manager to Democratic VP candidate John Edwards.
How many lawyers here?
180. When I started there were little more than 100. We’re growing so much that we’re currently in two different spaces and looking for new space where we’d be the primary tenant. I have some of the blueprints right here. In 10 years I expect that we’ll have 250 to 300 lawyers in D.C.
Peter at desk yesterday.
Worldwide, what are your numbers?
Globally we have 1500. We have 15 or 16 offices in the US, Europe and Hong Kong. We’re looking at other emerging markets but we don’t just want to put flags in the ground. We want to figure out how those locations will help our clients. Asia is where people are going right now.
So what’s a Long Island boy doing in D.C.?
After graduating from American University in ’79, I took the LSAT not wanting to go to law school. Then I went to law school never thinking I’d practice law. I wanted to do politics. My parents were really active in the community. My grandmother was a real activist. For the better part of the 80s, that’s what I did, working on Democratic presidential campaigns. Then I became an associate in a law firm, then later worked on the Hill as Chief of Staff for Montana Senator Max Baucus.
Why did you come back to a law firm?
I thought about moving back to New York, running for office. But after working in government, I saw the personal sacrifices you have to make. I have tremendous respect for those who do it, but it was less appealing once I saw it. I became Chief of Staff to the US Trade Representative [Mickey Kantor, now also at Mayer Brown] and felt a lot of satisfaction without being an elected official when I was traveling around the world representing the U.S. I became Special Trade Negotiator in the Clinton Administration, with the rank of ambassador. Mickey was the primary reason I came here.
What did you learn about negotiation?
Negotiation is about finding common ground, talking, understanding, and being extremely well prepared. The key point to remember is this: It’s less important to determine what each side’s position is and most important to discover what’s driving that position. It’s not something you learn in law school.
With Mickey Kantor yesterday.
What’s your role at the firm been?
At first I was in charge of the government trade practice. By 2003, we merged the global practice with the government practice and I’ve been building the government global practice since then. I built the largest trade practice in Brussels, led the effort to open the Hong Kong office -- which we did earlier this year. Then in March I was named Managing Partner.
Who are some of your personal clients?
Visa, Time Warner, Monsanto, US Ethanol Industry, Sealed Air [bubble wrap], Apple.
What one word describes what you do?
“Advisor” or “counselor.” That’s what I am to my clients. I help them address the challenges that they face overseas. Government problems, business problems.
What’s your favorite place to travel to on business?
Well, you can’t beat London, especially since I don’t speak other languages.
Do you ever get to bring the family with you?
It’s hard to. My boys are seven and nine now.
What’s changed for your practice since the Democrats took over?
Actually, not a lot has changed. We’ve always had a lot of people from both sides of the aisle. You can’t get anything done in Washington if you come at it from one side of the aisle.
Cari Parven conducted this interview for Bisnow on Business