Akin Gump Moves On After Millett

Star appellate lawyer to join D.C. Circuit bench.

, The National Law Journal

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President Barack Obama announces three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, including Patricia Millett of Akin Gump
President Barack Obama announces three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, including Patricia Millett of Akin Gump

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld spent months preparing for the departure of one of the firm's star appellate lawyers, Patricia Millett, who last week was confirmed for a slot on a key federal appeals court in Washington.

In August, Akin hired Pratik Shah, an assistant to the solicitor general with 13 U.S. Supreme Court arguments under his belt, as co-head of the firm's appellate practice. Within a week, Shah argued for Sam's Club — one of Millett's clients — in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Kim Koopersmith, the firm's chairwoman, said Millett and other partners spoke with clients to assure them the firm was ­committed to advocating for them. By the time the Senate voted on Dec. 10 to confirm Millett to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Koopersmith said, clients had given Shah an outstanding reception.

"The idea has been to be able to maintain a very high level of practice so that it is a seamless transition for our clients," Koopersmith said. "They know we have really fantastic people in this area and we just continue to build on that."

The Senate voted, 56-38, to confirm Millett, a veteran appellate advocate who has argued 32 times before the Supreme Court. The close vote reflected a political fight on Capitol Hill about the makeup of the D.C. Circuit, not Millett's qualifications, which were never challenged during the confirmation process. Lawmakers from both parties said she had the credentials and experience to serve on a bench that's often considered the nation's second-highest court.

Without a rule change on filibusters in November pushed by Democrats, the vote might not have happened. Republicans initially blocked the nominations of Millett and two others to the D.C. Circuit — Cornelia "Nina" Pillard of Georgetown University Law Center and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins in Washington.

When Millett did get a vote, two Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — voted with Democrats for Millett. Six senators did not vote.

The Senate voted, 51-44, on Dec. 12 to confirm Pillard, the faculty co-director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. The D.C. Circuit will now have — for the first time — five active female judges. In a statement, President Obama said "Ms. Pillard has displayed an unwavering commitment to justice and integrity."

Before those votes, Obama had placed one other person on the D.C. Circuit — former O'Melveny & Myers partner Sri Srinivasan, who recently served as a top lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice solicitor general's office.

A vote for Wilkins, a former Venable partner, was not immediately set.

EYE ON THE FUTURE

Millett is the first judge in a decade to join the D.C. Circuit directly from a law firm. John Roberts Jr., who previously led the appellate practice at the legacy firm Hogan & Hartson, was appointed to the circuit in 2003.

Perceptions of any law firm are built by different things, but a former partner sitting on the D.C. Circuit says a lot about the firm and will help attract clients, said Thomas Goldstein, who created the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump in 2006. (Goldstein is a now a name partner at Goldstein & Russell.)

"You hate to lose a great lawyer, but if you're going to this is the way to do it," Goldstein said. "And the firm was completely committed to the effort. They love Pattie but their legislative team was really involved in the process of making sure she got a fair hearing."

Akin Gump had ample time to review its appellate practice and prepare for Millett's potential departure.

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