Yes, apparently in Washington, who you know matters. Don’t be so shocked.
That appears to be the reason behind the investment Hunton & Williams is making with the addition of D. Kyle Sampson to the firm’s food and drug practice as a partner. Long before his tumultuous tenure at the Justice Department, Sampson clerked for Judge Karen Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in the mid 90s. Also working as a clerk was Sheldon Bradshaw, who last month joined Hunton & Williams as a partner and co-chair of the FDA practice and then helped bring Sampson to the firm.
Sampson was chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and one of the first to fall in the scandal over the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys. He resigned from the Justice Department earlier this year after telling Congress that he was in charge of a list of U.S. attorneys that were targeted to be fired. That baggage doesn’t appear to bother those at Hunton & Williams.
“He’s a very high quality lawyer and has a distinguished career,” says Walfredo Martinez, the firm’s managing partner. “That’s why he’s here. I’m not going to comment on the politics but I’ve met the man and he’s a high quality human being.” Sampson declined to comment.
Martinez declined to comment on whether Sampson joined as an equity or nonequity partner. “To be elected a partner requires unanimous consent,” says Martinez. “As a rule we don’t talk about a partner’s status when they join the firm.”
Also helping Sampson land at Hunton & Williams was partner David Higbee. The two were college roommates before graduating from Brigham Young in 1993. (Bradshaw graduated from BYU in 1991.) Martinez says Higbee spoke highly of Sampson when partners discussed bringing him to the firm.
“It’s been a priority of Hunton & Williams to expand the Food and Drug Practice with talented individuals,” says Martinez. “We want to have the leading FDA practice in the country in 24 to 26 months. We’re not concerned about bringing in folks that have served in the [Bush] administration.”
Sampson’s addition is just the latest in a round of hires by Hunton & Williams in its FDA practice. Last month Bradshaw joined the firm as a partner. He was previously chief counsel of the Food and Drug Administration and industry observers say a logical lawyer to try and build an FDA practice around. Along with Sampson, the firm also added partner Conan Grames, bringing the number of partners in the practice to four. Grames joined from the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) where he was vice president and general counsel.
This comes at a time when FDA practices are booming, with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, deserving a special hat-tip for pushing recent investigations ranging from children’s antihistamines to cardiac defibrillators.
“They’re trying to build an FDA practice, which is what every firm wants to do,” says Jonathan Kahan co-director of Hogan & Hartson food and drug practice. “Right now business is very good.”
But the move has left recruiters and lawyers scratching their heads about hiring a “radioactive” lawyer like Sampson. “It’s one thing to take a risk from the revolving door of government that the person will help grow a practice,” says a former Hunton & Williams partner. “But it’s hard to understand why a client would pay for someone so controversial.”