The Talent

April 15, 2010 6:45 PM

Lanny Davis Leaves McDermott, But Not the Building

Posted by Brian Baxter

Lanny Davis

Seven months after joining McDermott Will & Emery from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Beltway veteran Lanny Davis is setting up his own shop. Davis will keep an office in the same building as McDermott but be based on a separate floor from the firm.

The Washington Post leaked the news this morning of Davis's looming departure, which is officially effective on Monday when he'll hang his own shingle, Lanny J. Davis & Associates. The Blog of Legal Times, a sibling blog, picked up on the news and spoke to Eileen O'Connor, a close colleague of Davis's who'd joined McDermott with him from Orrick.

When reached on his cell phone late Thursday, Davis expressed thanks to his former employer for giving him the opportunity to branch out on his own.

"McDermott has been extremely generous in allowing me to market myself to other law firms," Davis says. "And also to affiliate with nonlawyers who are well-known Republicans in the communications and legislative strategies business."

Davis declined to mention specific names, but the former White House special counsel and spokesman for President Bill Clinton says he's eager to join up with his political and lobbying brethren across the aisle, something he was unable to do at 1,200-lawyer McDermott because of conflicts.

"Some of those folks are members of other law firms, which is a clear conflict," Davis says. "But the demand for my services started to reach a critical mass after I switched to McDermott, especially after the work I did for Whole Foods in its merger battle with the Federal Trade Commission."

Sibling publication Legal Times delved into the three-pronged strategy crafted by Davis and O'Connor while they were at Orrick, which involved litigation, lobbying, and a media blitz to pressure the FTC to approve Whole Foods's merger with rival organic grocer Wild Oats. (Whole Foods settled the FTC's antitrust challenge of the merger in March 2009, and the deal was completed.)

Davis says he first experienced the intersection of law and politics at the White House, but it was the Whole Foods matter that convinced him that there was a strong demand from clients for a lawyer who could "think outside the box" and use the law and lobbying to engage the media in a way that benefits the client.

"I started getting calls from lawyers and other people that wanted me for nonlegal activities--like a pure media or lobbying assignment--that just wasn't easy to do as a member of a large law firm," Davis says. "The McDermott folks actually saw the opportunity here before I did. So we came up with a win-win scenario where I'll be able to continue working with clients at the firm while also marketing myself to other law firms to work for other lawyers."

Davis will send his bills directly to McDermott's client, he says. But unlike a public relations consultant--even one with a law degree--Davis says he also needs to maintain his attorney-client privilege.

"[A PR person] can't just have a law degree--you have to practice law and be part of a litigation team with bonafide legal experience and activity in order to qualify for attorney-client privilege," he adds. "I can't do this job without it. I've got to be in the room with fellow lawyers, looking at bad and good facts, in order to have credibility with people in your profession."

Davis's ability to raise the shield of attorney-client privilege effectively gives him an advantage over other PR professionals, he says, because those people could be subject to a deposition by opposing parties. Davis will also now be able to hire nonlawyers at his own firm.

The idea of going solo has been in the back of Davis's mind since he left the White House for Patton Boggs a decade ago, he says. Davis says he'll continue to work with O'Connor, who also worked with him in launching Patton Boggs's legal crisis communications practice and then moved with him to Orrick. O'Connor will remain at McDermott, where she is counsel.

On Monday, Davis expects his Web be up and running along with the rest of his new practice. Why the use of his middle initial in the domain name?

"It turns out someone owns," he says, somewhat irritated. "They invested in my name and demanded $900 for it. I said, 'Screw it,' and looked for something else. So whoever owns, I don't think you're going to get that $900."

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