Though frequently on the road, we caught Brian in his DC office last week.
What’s it like working in the DC office of a California-based firm?
We still have a pioneering spirit. We are selling ideas instead of historical relationships. Even if we are the oldest DC office of an LA firm, we’re still not Hogan & Hartson or Arnold & Porter. We are a little hungrier.
What do you see as growth areas for the firm?
Antitrust, securities, private equity, and ERISA, among others. We’ve been growing pretty rapidly – about 10-15% a year.
How do you feel about paying first-year associates $160,000?
We will always pay market rate. We are early movers; we’re not looking to nickel and dime our associates. The challenge is figuring out which candidates are looking at us for purely financial reasons, just to pay off student loans and then move on, and which are interested enough in what we do to come regardless of that salary.
What are the top three schools where you recruit?
Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown in that order. Chicago is probably the fourth. We have a program at Harvard in which our lawyers lead a weekly seminar on current matters before the Supreme Court; the students get involved in the cert process on a pro bono basis on key cases. Working with the students gives us a certain profile.
What’s your pitch to prospective attorneys?
“Ideas wanted.” The role of associates isn’t simply sitting in a chair and producing work product. We want to tap the creativity of associates so they can contribute to strategy.
How did you get into recruiting?
I started recruiting as a second year at the firm. I was asked to serve as the office’s hiring partner in late 2002 and took on the firm-wide role in 2004.
How much travel does that mean for you?
I have a ton of frequent flyer miles. I have regular meetings in person in LA, San Francisco, and NYC to review every single associate to ensure we are fairly capturing their contributions to the firm – and that’s just the travel for internal firm management. I also visit five to six campuses a year and travel periodically to all of our offices.
Is that a different system for reviewing associate than other firms have?
We try to make compensation judgments not only on a class-by-class basis, but also in a way that recognizes individual contributions. We ask associates to describe in great detail their contribution for the year and a partner is assigned to each to read their report and give feedback to our committee.
How’d you get to DC?
I’m from a small town in Southern Colorado and a family friend set me up with internships in the defense lobby and the Reagan administration’s immigration service, when immigration was the last thing on people’s minds.
And to O’Melveny?
In 1992, I picked up a copy of the Washingtonian. It had a picture of O’Melveny partner Warren Christopher with a headline that read something like “The Most Powerful Man in Washington lives in California,” and I thought this is where I want to be.
We aren’t sure what Brian was reading but he must know Bisnow is not available in print.
How have you grown your practice?
As a young lawyer I saw that the finance and banking niche were not yet explored by litigators here. We were a well-known transactional firm, but there were no litigators practicing in that space.
Who was your first client?
Union Planters Bank in Memphis. We had a longstanding client that provided insurance services to the bank, which was a defendant in a class action suit. I flew down to Memphis, schmoozed, had dinner, did a big presentation, and got the job.
What do you do outside the office?
I have four children; the oldest two are star swimmers and soccer players. And I’m pretty serious about the piano. Right now I’m working up Mozart duets with one of my colleagues.