Houston-based Vinson & Elkins is the latest big law firm to beef up its D.C. appellate practice by hiring a former Supreme Court law clerk and respected alum of the solicitor general's office. An announcement is due soon that it has hired John Elwood, an eight-year veteran of the Bush Administration Justice Department, to start on Monday as a partner in the D.C. office.
Elwood, 42, clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 1996-1997 term. After working at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin and then Baker Botts, he joined the Justice Department's criminal division in 2001, moving to the SG's office in 2002. After arguing five cases before the high court, he moved to the Office of Legal Counsel, and by the time he left on Inauguration Day in 2009, he was the senior deputy in that office. Since then he's taken time off to be with family and to consider what to do next.
He started talking with V&E over the summer, and after discussions with Houston, Dallas, and D.C. partners, Elwood said he was attracted by its appellate record and its desire to strengthen its Supreme Court and appellate practice in D.C. to provide an "in-house capability" to clients. "When I realized that the 'Appellate Highlights' pamphlet they sent me was from just one year, and not a five-year period as I’d assumed, it impressed me," Elwood said. He won't disclose terms, but said he expects to hire others for the practice in the next year or so, as well as tapping in-house talent in many of the firm's offices.
"It's a fantastic development for us," said Thomas Leatherbury, the firm's hiring partner. "He immediately enhances our ability to handle national appeals in D.C. and the east coast." Leatherbury emphasized that Elwood's portfolio will be broader than Supreme Court advocacy.
Supreme Court nerds also know Elwood as the irreverent author of regular humorous dispatches about Supreme Court happenings while he was at Baker Botts, and since then, as an occasional chronicler of Court and legal developments for the Green Bag law review and almanac. In recent months he has also written for the popular Volokh Conspiracy blog.
Just this month, his wry review of the Court's 2008-2009 term appeared in Green Bag, under the usual title, "What Were They Thinking?" Elwood highlighted the trends and pratfalls of the Court, poking fun at press analyses of the term -- including National Law Journal's -- that portrayed Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. as taking the Court to the right and actively trying to "erode precedents favoring criminal defendants, abortion rights, the environment, humanity, cuddly woodland animals, and even Oprah." Elwood added that "the landfills are brimming with the Maalox bottles of Reagan-Bush officials who are still wondering what became of the last inevitable steady march right."
Of new Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Elwood said she was a shrewd pick because "when confirmed, Sotomayor became the first justice with an alliterative name since Felix Frankfurter." As for retiring Justice David Souter, Elwood said he remained a paradox: "How did a man who seemed the very embodiment of the taciturn Yankee write so damned much?"
Asked if he'll continue his droll prose in his new job, Elwood said he's not sure. "I’m pretty circumspect about using humor professionally, but when circumstances call for it, like my Green Bag pieces, or the old email newsletter, you’re right, I will walk a mile for a joke."
Leatherbury said he's comfortable with Elwood's past writings. "I think John's sense of humor is a great asset for us and for him."