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    January 11, 2008  

What's Up at McKenna Long?
Quick Questions for Tom Papson, DC Managing Partner

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In 2002, the Atlanta firm of Long Aldridge & Norman was looking for a greater national profile.? Here in D.C., McKenna & Cuneo wanted to add a transactional practice to its well-known government contracts expertise (they claim to have invented the specialty back in the 40s).? The firms decided to tie the knot; and now, five and a half years later, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP is a 450-lawyer shop with 11 offices.? DC Managing Partner Tom Papson took a turn in our hot seat.


No, they didn't leave the window open-Tom's just showing us some of the decorative flair in the firm's second-floor conference center.? This piece by Paul Villinski (called "Dusk" for reasons that are too artistic for us to decipher) features butterflies made from old beer cans.? McKenna Long's K Street building was designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli, and once stood in as the Democratic National Campaign headquarters in an episode of West Wing.?? ?


Is D.C. your largest office?
Our Atlanta and DC offices are comparable in size. We've got about 145 attorneys here, and we're the fastest-growing office.

You were the combined firm's first Co-Managing Partner.? What were the biggest issues you had to deal with after the merger?
The biggest decisions-like what kind of governance and compensation systems we would have-had been settled before we merged.? It went so smoothly that we cut short a transition period in which we had one co-Chairman and one Co-Managing Partner from each of the legacy firms.? But mergers of equals are very difficult, because you don't presume that either firm's way of doing things will prevail.? You really have to identify the best practice for so many operational details.

What's the management structure like?
We realized it was going to be a big firm and wanted a corporate style that would allow most attorneys to focus on their practices.? We have a Chairman, Jeff Haidet, who manages the professional side, and a Managing Partner, Mark Flanagan, who handles more of the financial side.? We also have a Board of Directors with 14 partners, 12 of whom are elected by the partners and 2 of whom are chosen by the elected members.?

Who's on the Board?
Terms are limited, but the Board has seats for two tiers of equity partner.? We also reserve two seats for draw partners-those seats have a one-year term. Plus we have what we call two "diversity" seats-the non-elected seats-to help with balance among offices and practice groups or other factors.


Fresh out of Georgetown Law, Tom clerked for Judge Sirica at the tail end of the Watergate proceedings.? He worked on motions from John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman to reduce their sentences, which the Court granted.?


What's your biggest practice area in D.C.?
Litigation, which is about a third of our attorneys.? Other major practices include government contracts, IP, environmental and regulatory, and public policy, which includes a growing political and election law practice.

And litigation specialties?
They're mostly related to government contracts.? We do products liability cases related to military products and have a major Safety Act practice, which gives tort protections to private sector makers of homeland security products.? Another group does toxic tort cases that can come out of operations performed for the government.? We also support our growing IP litigation work out of the litigation department.

Any other interesting practice initiatives?
DC is home to our Business Strategy Group.? This group looks for future trends in the economy and government activity and develops new services that allow our clients to take advantage of those trends.? Examples of such services are biodefense initiatives, public health preparedness, military base closures and realignment, and infrastructure privatization.?

What's been your focus as DC managing partner?
Well, in addition to helping to shape our strategic growth here, I'm spending a lot of time on the expansion and renovation of our space, including the construction ?of a conference center on the second floor, which opened last spring.? We have one conference room that fits 125 people and has two rear-projection screens built into a glass wall.? We're proud of the way it turned out.

What kind of events do you have?
Client seminars, ABA meetings.? We also have an Ambassador Roundtable series, where every few months we bring in an ambassador to give a short talk and mix with clients and friends of the firm.? The ambassadors love it because it gives them an opportunity to talk to people casually.

How'd you make that happen?? Where'd the idea come from?
Gordon Giffin, one of our partners, is a former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, so he has contacts in the diplomatic world. ?The actual idea, though, came from Scotty Greenwood, a Managing Director here who served with Gordon in Canada.

What's your own practice, and how much time do you spend on it?
I spend less than 20% of my time in the office managing partner role.? My practice is mostly government contracts litigation and counseling on organizational conflicts of interest and ethics issues confronting government contractors.? Pro bono work is also very important to me.? I'm a past president of the D.C. Legal Aid Society and some of my most memorable cases have been in the pro bono arena.

Any hidden talents we should know about?
I play the piano recreationally.? I always wanted to have a great piano, and now we have a music room in our house with a very nice grand piano.? I particularly enjoy playing with my college-age son, who is the true musician in our family.

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