Mark Jungers comments on the hiring of U.S. District Judge John Gleeson by Debevoise in Law 360

Federal Judge Hire Would Be Shrewd Addition For Debevoise

Law360, New York (February 29, 2016, 3:02 PM EST) — Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has been bulking up its white collar group, and buzz that the firm is about to add U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to its ranks fits into a play to get an edge in the ever-competitive — and increasingly lucrative — white collar arena, experts say.

Judge Gleeson, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor who helped secure a hard-won conviction of mob boss John “Teflon Don” Gotti, announced his resignation from the Eastern District of New York in January and reports this past week say he will be headed to Debevoise after his resignation takes effect on March 9.

If true, the hire would be a strategically smart play on the part of Debevoise, which recently bulked up its white collar group with another high-profile hire — arguably its biggest since losing the preeminent Mary Jo White to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission — amid increasing competition, according to experts.

“These firms are full of prosecutors, but they are not full of former judges. Having one, I would think, would provide them with a competitive advantage,” said Mark Jungers, founder of Lippman Jungers LLC.

Having a former judge in the group can help a team decide how it is going to approach a white collar matter, whether it’s a trial or an investigation, said Peter Zeughauser, principal of consulting firm Zeughauser Group LLC.

“I think there is always the hope and maybe the expectation that they will win more business as a result of having someone like a former judge on the team,” Zeughauser said. “For firms like Debevoise, with a practice the size of theirs, it’s a way to add value to their existing clients. It’s both an investment in improving the level of advice they can provide to clients and it also reflects well on the practice of the firm in the eyes of clients.”

Bringing in a judge or anyone into the partnership ranks can be a bit of a gamble as they don’t come in with existing books of business, according to experts.

“If someone doesn’t feed themselves, other people have to work to feed them,” said Gloria Sandrino, a principal at the recruiting firm Lateral Link.

And while some former judges jump into the active practice of law, others end up playing more of an advisory capacity, Zeughauser noted.

However, Judge Gleeson — who will likely command a $2 million to $3 million salary on par with others in his partnership class — comes in with at least some law firm experience from his early associate days and offers a whole new perspective for the larger team to tap, Jungers said.

Someone of Judge Gleeson’s stature helps with providing advice to existing clients, but it can also be a game-changer when competing against other firms for new clients, according to experts.

Clients “are not going to meet a lot of federal judges in those beauty contests,” Jungers said.

Debevoise already has one of the strongest white collar practices in the country and adding a federal judge only burnishes that, Zeughauser said.

It would also be in line with what seems to be a plan to grow its already significant white collar group in the face of increasing competition, according to experts. Earlier this month, Debevoise announced the addition of Julie M. Riewe, the former co-chief of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit.

And early last year, the firm also made several new additions to its white collar group, including bringing in partner David O’Neil, the former acting assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division and former deputy assistant attorney general for the Fraud Section at the U.S. Department of Justice; partner Matthew Biben, who was the former general counsel at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; and counsel Sarah Coyne, who was the former assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York and chief of the Business and Securities Fraud Section there.

“They are building breadth and depth in an area in which they have been very successful and which can drive a lot of work to the firm,” Zeughauser said.

And Debevoise is known throughout the industry for not doing much lateral hiring, according to experts.

“It’s not a firm that hires a lot of laterals,” Sandrino said. When they do, “they like to do a lot of their lateral partner hiring under the radar screen. They depend a lot on their current partners and the relationships they have and who they see on the other side of the table.”

The firm’s efforts to bolster its practice is probably partly spurred by the increasing competition in the white collar and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act space, according to experts, who say that where most other litigation areas are struggling and not seeing an increase in resources, white collar and FCPA practices are the one glowing exception.

That’s because much of the growth is linked to the exploding cross-border deals work that many large corporate clients are undertaking, which often require FCPA reviews and counsel, according to Sandrino.

The “hot area” often helps strengthen client relations as it’s the kind of practice that gets the attorneys into the clients’ boardrooms, Zeughauser noted.

“[Debevoise] may see a tremendous uptick in white collar work or they may be worried about their ability to compete,” Jungers said.

By Natalie Rodriguez

–Editing by Katherine Rautenberg and Kelly Duncan.