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January 21, 2009 3:39 PM

Former Fannie GC Wilkinson Heading to Paul Weiss

Posted by Amy Kolz

 Beth_Wilkinson_Crop Former Fannie Mae general counsel Beth Wilkinson will be joining the litigation department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison at the beginning of February. The firm's partnership voted to admit Wilkinson to the partnership this afternoon.

The announced move is a coup for the litigation powerhouse and marks the end of a four-month guessing game as to where Wilkinson--a longtime star of the Washington, D.C., bar--would land. Wilkinson left Fannie Mae following the government takeover of the mortgage giant last September. Convinced the government was making a mistake by throwing Fannie into a conservatorship and ready to return to private practice, she spent the fall evaluating her options.

Latham & Watkins was an obvious choice. She had spent seven years there as a white-collar litigator prior to joining Fannie Mae, courting clients such as General Electric and Ford Motor Company, and winning a significant product liability jury trial for Philip Morris USA in 2005. But Wilkinson says she also talked to other Am Law 100 heavyweights, including Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Given her high-profile resume, she had many options.

Wilkinson started her career in the office of the Army's general counsel and later was a principal deputy in the Justice Department's terrorism and violent crime section. She also was special attorney to the U.S. attorney general, playing a lead role in prosecuting Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Wilkinson thought she was close to making a decision on her next move when she received an unexpected call from Paul Weiss D.C. office head Kenneth Gallo in early December. Firm chair Brad Karp learned that Wilkinson was still on the market when he was seated next to Wilkinson friend and Goldman Sachs managing director Dina Powell at a benefit the night before (Powell, by the way, once was the highest-ranking Arab American in the Bush administration). Karp e-mailed Gallo that night suggesting a meeting with Wilkinson. Gallo and Wilkinson met a few days later. Within a week, Wilkinson flew to New York for a power lunch with Karp, litigation cochair Jay Cohen, Theodore Wells, Jr., and former New York deputy attorney general Michele Hirshman at midtown Manhattan's Piano Due.

Karp left the lunch thinking, "I get it, I get why she has been so successful and why people are so drawn to her," he says. The next month was a whirlwind as Wilkinson met with another two dozen Paul Weiss partners. She made the decision to join the firm shortly after the New Year.

Paul Weiss's litigation prowess, from such trial luminaries such as Ted Wells, certainly swayed Wilkinson, she says. "I worship at the feet of Ted Wells," she says. But she also was charmed by the firm's smaller size and unassuming culture. "It's a very serious practice of law but they don't take themselves too seriously," she says. "I felt like it was a place I could do my best work and also put my feet up on my desk and have great colleagues."

Now Wilkinson, a mother of three (all under age seven) and wife of Meet the Press moderator David Gregory, is just excited to restart her private practice. She will, however, miss the courting process a bit. "It's like marriage," she jokes. "I don't want them to stop telling me I'm beautiful."


Photo by Marissa Rauch

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