We’d heard about Weil Gotshal’s snazzy offices, and sure enough in visiting 1300 Eye Street last week were met with a striking interior that’s equal part 2001: A Space Odyssey and I.M. Pei. The firm is now 1200 attorneys in 20 cities, Beijing and Hong Kong having opened this month. DC, the firm’s first office outside New York City, opened in ‘75 and is now 75 attorneys. David has managed DC since the early 90’s.
The firm spent six years on K Steet before a growth surge prompted its unexpected move in August ‘06. They’d looked at the space in the late 80’s, David tells us, but “the neighborhood wasn’t as developed then.”
What’s been the pace of growth in DC recently?
Five years ago we were just about 50 and we’ve been steady at around 75 for the last year. We expect modest growth in the associate ranks this year in the litigation regulatory practices.
What are your strongest areas here?
We’re known for antitrust, international trade and global dispute resolution, environmental, and international tax. We also have a media policy practice that works with clients negotiating industry-wide technology agreements, the latest being what will be the format for the next generation of DVDs.
You do that without an L.A. office?
My partner Bruce Turnbull takes a lot of trips out there. Historically, we’ve done a substantial amount of corporate and litigation for the entertainment industry there and in New York. Everyone assumes we’re out there but the reality is we’re not.
David stands under the celestial white light of the lobby, a design aspect that drew much comment (mainly positive) from the firm’s attorneys. Is this a lawyer’s conception of heaven?
What’s driven DC growth specifically?
Over the past four years, a broad-based antitrust practice has been the largest engine for growth, and we have also increased the volume of complex commercial litigation and international trade and dispute resolution.
What’s the firm’s general view about lateral versus organic growth?
We have an open mind. I expect this year to expand our IP litigation capabilities by committing more lawyers in and outside of Washington to expand what we are doing here. I expect a partner from one of our other offices to relocate here. We have already had one of our complex commercial litigation partners from Dallas, Ralph Miller, relocate to Washington this past year.
Particular areas you want to beef up here?
IP and generally expanding our SEC capabilities are targets. We are also looking at white collar crime as an area of potential growth. We look at ourselves as one law firm and geography may influence but does not dictate where we add practices. Where we have need or aspirations, we are going to find the best available people. Geography may be a secondary consideration. The firm is made up of departments and practices that bridge all of our regional and international offices.
Are you saying you discourage people from thinking, “This is the Washington office,” and encourage “I do antitrust”?
To some degree yes, but I also want people to feel a high level of collegiality and commitment to the Washington office.
Two years ago, David co-established the David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professorship in Law and Religion at GW, where he did double duty (BA, ‘70; JD, ‘73). He grew up in a family of Chicago lawyers.
How much of your time do you spend on management?
Plenty of time is spent on management, but I continue to be a full time working lawyer. We have a terrific professional staff. We also have a committee system in Washington to help manage ourselves. All of this allows me to focus on practice as well as management.
What legal matters are you working on?
We just represented GE in the sale of their plastics division. That bundle of companies and assets was sold at auction for $11.6 billion to SABIC, a Saudi Arabian company.
You’re nearly at the top of the AmLaw Gold Standard, which implies among other things a strong pro bono practice. Any interesting cases?
I am most proud of what we do in the community here. Not just the lawyers but our amazing staff. For example, we partner with Noyes Elementary School to help the teachers and students there. Our footprint in the pro bono world of Washington is much larger than one might expect given our size here. Recently, we worked with Appleseed to assist the District in dealing with lead contamination in drinking water. We have also worked with Northwestern Law School’s Center for International Human Rights challenging procedures in Guantanamo, and separately represented five Saudi detainees—the last two were released last week. Going to Guantanamo was an experience I will not soon forget including something of a stand down I had with the commandant of the facility.
What are the best aspects of your new offices?
Our space is not only practical, it has some real drama. Our conference areas on the 9th Floor and reception area are striking. It has been a real treat to work on creating the photography collection, which is now very substantial in quantity and quality.
And the future of the DC office?
I view this office as evolving and growing. Remaining static is not a WGM characteristic. Stay tuned. We are neither rigid not stodgy, and you can expect more growth and change in the coming years.