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Bisnow on Business

Land America



When Laurin Mills was named Managing Partner of Nixon Peabody’s Washington office a year ago, it took a while for that fact to sink in. But after a few days, when the fire alarm sounded in the hallways of their Ninth Street offices across from the FBI, he had an epiphany. As he elbowed his way toward the stairs, “it dawned on me,” he told us last week, “I’m the leader, and I need to make sure everyone is okay.”


Mills on the impressive staircase that literally stopped traffic on installation day seven years ago. It was delivered in one piece:  Ninth Street was closed and windows were removed as the mammoth structure was craned into place.   


Selected this time last year by the New York-based chairman of the 600-attorney firm, Mills succeeded Tina Wilcox as managing partner in DC; she had come from the Boston’s Peabody & Brown which merged in 1999 with Nixon Hargrave. (Both were Civil War era firms, and neither was related to the ex-President of Mudge Rose fame; in fact the firm’s softball team is named “Not ‘That’ Nixon!”) Now she spends full time as head of the firmwide real estate practice. “This is the house that Tina built, to a large extent. I don’t know why I was chosen. It’s nothing I aspired to, but obviously something I hope to do well. But it takes a lot of learning.”  


Laurin is still learning from books and otherwise.


Thus did Mills spend 500 hours the first year learning “the budgeting process, how to get stuff done administratively, the limits of my authority.” Because the firm is largely managed via its practice groups, he doesn’t have complete control, and just like Teddy Roosevelt, says his position is largely just a “bully pulpit.” Still, Mills oversees 230 employees, of which 110 are attorneys—half of whom are partners. The firm is distinguished by this exceptionally high attorney-partner ratio. (Some of the partners contribute capital while others do not, but both kinds share in profits.)


Mills' own practice is IP litigation. Among current cases, he’s representing Dell in a large trade secret case in federal court in New Jersey, travelling quite a lot there and to witnesses in Texas, plus coordinating with experts in DC. He also does First Amendment work for Gannett. Why do companies seek him out? Among other things, he is the editor of the firm’s Copyright and Internet Law Website, which he says has been quite useful in generating attention and business.


The DC office is known for IP, syndication and affordable housing, and white collar defense, and the firm nationally is known for IP and its municipal bond practice. Last summer, the firm did the legal work for both the Yankee and Mets stadiums. The firm has been named one of the 100 Best Places to work by Fortune two years running, and the DC office has won the Minority Corporate Counsel’s Association’s Sager award in recognition of its diversity efforts. 


The DC office has a clear eye on expansion: It acquired McLean-based Sixby Friedman in 2001 (about 30 IP lawyers), and Mills says he’s looking to create more of a Washington regulatory practice, and is quite open to different substantive areas. Recent new hires include Anjali Chaturvedi in the white collar practice, who comes from the US Attorney’s office in San Francisco where she ran the organized crime task force. “That’s a good steal,” he says, pointing out they’ve already seen growth in the practice group since her start in January. Michele Ross has joined the Global Finance practice from Katten Muchin; and Steve Feirman joined as a co-leader of the Franchise practice from DLA Piper.


Sounds busy, but Mills keeps in practice. He’s also got three sons—9, 12, and 17. Between travel basketball and soccer, and debating and Model UN, he runs around a lot at home, too.


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