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Forward to a Friend  | August 7, 2007
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Bisnow on Business

Land America

Quick Questions for DC Office Chair John Aldock

Big shoutout to new sponsor Special Counsel! With 35 locations nationwide, its DC office has been a big deal in legal work force solutions since 1987. Local head Julia Sweeney says 95% of her customers are repeaters. (That's a heckuva lot.)


How did a Boston firm get such a large DC office?

We were only 9 lawyers three years ago, then merged in late 2004 with Shea & Gardner, my old firm, which was 66, to bring us to 75. We are now 100. So we have grown a lot in the past 2 years. 



What are your strengths here?

Litigation is our core, but we’ve gone into new areas by picking up the private equity group from Hogan & Hartson last year, as well as the FDA and medical device group from Wilmer Hale this year. We strengthened our national IP practice in June by adding 7 partners and others from Hunton & Williams, including Tom Scott, who will head our IP practice nationwide. We’re looking to build on the private equity acquisition by adding more corporate presence, and possible additions in securities enforcement and antitrust.


How do you decide on growth strategy?

It's been carefully plotted by the firm, led by Regina Pisa, honored by her peers as one of the most admired managing partners in the country. Regina has held this post since 1998. I always thought I was a good law firm manager, but she’s the best I have ever seen.



You’re a litigator. Does management take you away from that?

I’ll never give the practice up, I love it: New clients, new issues, new challenges. I spend one third of my time on DC and overall firm management and two thirds practicing law. You don’t need a full time manager in DC for 100 lawyers, and I don’t want to be one.


The placard on your wall reads, “Settlement, yes. Lawyers NO!” Tongue in cheek?

Not at all. In the mid-90’s I had pickets carrying that sign in support of a settlement class action on behalf of 20 corporations of all the then-pending and future asbestos cases in the US. We negotiated an agreement with the leaders of the plaintiffs bar and the AFL-CIO and litigated its fairness for months in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court ruled we couldn’t settle the future cases and, as a result, asbestos cases continue to be filed today. 


What is your own practice like?

Most of my cases involve defending corporations in mass torts and class actions. I have an alleged “bad faith” case against a major insurer set for trial in West Virginia in September. I spend time in federal court in New Orleans defending a major corporation faced with four class actions and thousands of individual cases as a result of a barge that broke free during Katrina and allegedly smashed through the levee, flooding the Ninth Ward and St. Barnard Parish. Of course, the barge went through the breach caused by an already failed levee, but that doesn’t stop the lawsuits. I also advise DC law firms faced with conflicts, malpractice or issues with their partners.


Last week, you opened an office in Silicon Valley. Why?

We already had many clients there, California is integral to our future. We now have five offices in California. We haven’t found firms that made sense as merger partners, so we’re building on our own.



Do you see changes in incoming lawyers?

Young lawyers used to come with an eye on longevity and partnership. Now, many are thinking of staying just a couple years to try it on for size. Salaries for top hires are off the charts and, as a result, many firms are demanding more of their associates. Retention of associates is a national challenge for law firms. In DC, over 20% leave within three years. In New York it’s worse.


How do you cope with it?

We have better than average retention because we work at it. We put a lot of resources into a full-time professional development and training staff. We want our lawyers to feel they grew at the firm even if they don’t pursue a partnership track. 


Are lawyers also discouraged with specialization?

Specialization for litigators is overrated. A good trial lawyer can try anything. We rotate our trial lawyers through different matters, with different partners, to give them wider exposure.


Any worries?

Every lawyer, no matter how accomplished, worries about the next piece of business turning up.


Your artifacts include a Buddha. You must be a traveler.

My last three sojourns were Vietnam and Cambodia, China and Tibet, and Northern India. My wife and I hope to go trekking in New Zealand in November with some old Australian friends. We also still travel with our grown daughters, but with two grandchildren these trips will be beaches at least until they can ski.     

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