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May 9, 2011 6:28 PM

Cleary Gottlieb Makes Two Big Hires in Washington

Posted by Brian Baxter

Juan Morillo, the former head of Clifford Chance's U.S. litigation and dispute resolution practice, is joining Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton along with David Becker, a former Cleary partner who stepped down as general counsel of the SEC in February.

The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, has the story on the hires by Cleary's office in Washington, D.C. The moves give 1,130-lawyer Cleary 197 partners worldwide, according to a statement by the firm.

The American Lawyer named Morillo, 42, one of its Fab 50 Young Litigators in January 2007. Morillo joined Clifford Chance later that year with two other partners from Sidley Austin, as laterals once again began flocking to the Magic Circle firm after its merger with Rogers & Wells in 2000.

Morillo spoke to The Am Law Daily in June 2009 after he was appointed head of Clifford Chance's U.S. litigation practice following the departure of predecessor Mark Kirsch for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. At the time, we reported Morillo's book of business was between $12 million to $15 million. At Cleary, Morillo joins the firm's global litigation practice and will represent clients in government investigations and civil litigation.

Clifford Chance spokesman Mike Kachel said the firm wished Morillo "all the best" in his move to Cleary. David DiBari, a Clifford Chance partner of 22 years, has been elected the firm's new Americas practice leader for litigation and dispute resolution. DiBari is the managing partner of Clifford Chance's Washington office.

"[DiBari] received strong support from his fellow partners and is the natural choice for the role given his management experience and his position on the leadership teams for the Americas and the global litigation practice," Kachel said in a statement to The Am Law Daily. "We couldn't have a better person at the helm than David."

Edward Lee, a consultant with Arlington, Va.-based executive search firm The McCormick Group, brokered Morillo's move to Cleary from Clifford Chance.

Rejoining Cleary is Becker, 63, who was replaced as general counsel of the SEC in February by former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner Mark Cahn. Becker previously served as the SEC's top in-house lawyer from 2000 to 2002, and was renominated for the position in February 2009 after the Obama administration took office.

The NLJ notes that Becker's second stint with the agency was not without controversy. Less than a month after stepping down in February, Becker was hit with a clawback suit by Irving Picard, a Baker & Hostetler partner serving as liquidating trustee for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, over $1.5 million in alleged ill-gotten gains that the estate of Becker's late mother had invested with Madoff.

In March, House Republicans stepped up a letter writing campaign to press Becker on his family's Madoff ties, as reported by sibling publication Corporate Counsel. Congress subsequently asked Becker to testify on his alleged conflict of interest regarding Madoff. SEC chair Mary Schapiro noted that Becker had informed her of the potential conflict when he was hired, but admitted that the agency's credibility had taken a hit.

Becker spoke at length with Corporate Counsel last month about the Madoff matter and his time at the SEC. At Cleary, Becker will focus on securities enforcement and regulation, corporate governance and internal investigations, and financial services reform.

According to The American Lawyer's most recent financial data, Cleary saw average profits per partner increase more than 18 percent from $2.2 million in 2009 to $2.6 million in 2010. Gross revenue rose nearly 9 percent to almost $1.1 billion.

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