Covington & Burling is kicking off the New Year with some pretty big announcements. Former D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who was a Covington partner before joining the administration of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, will return to the firm as a senior counsel to chair a new crisis management practice.
In addition to Nickles, the crisis management team assembles some of the firm’s most high-profile attorneys, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Stuart Eizenstat, who served as President Clinton’s ambassador to the European Union; former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; and Thomas Williamson, former U.S. solicitor of labor.
Nickles said that the practice will be designed to be a “one-stop shop” for chief executive officers facing a crisis or major disaster who need counseling on multiple fronts. Nickles said the team will be able to advise CEOs on public relations strategies, handling multiple court cases, working with Congress, and other federal investigations.
“During the last 10 or 15 years of my practice, there were a remarkable number of situations like corporate takeovers or other time-sensitive problems where the CEO would be trying to figure out what in the hell was going on,” Nickles said. “This team is going to be designed to give the CEO or corporate board one person to talk to and get advice on a whole range of fronts as opposed to having 15 or more people looking at him.
Nickles said that he has wanted to form a crisis management team for years but has been waiting for the right opportunity. Now that he is returning to Covington after Fenty’s failed reelection bid, he said, he has reached a point in his career where it makes sense.
“During the past four years, I learned a great deal about how government works and how to deal with a whole host of complicated issues,” Nickles said. “Whether it was gun rights issues in D.C. v. Heller or medicinal marijuana or gay marriage, there were a lot of interested parties that needed to be addressed. This team will be designed to help answer questions regardless of where they’re coming from.”
Nickles, whom The National Law Journal profiled in November 2009, said that much of the team’s work will be paid for on retainer, so that “when there is something on the horizon, we’ll be ready to go.” But he also said that the team will be positioned to be dispatched when something unforeseen happens.
As an example, Nickles pointed to the BP oil spill. “That is a situation where there are a lot of fronts for the company to think about,” Nickles said. (To lead its crisis management team, BP has hired Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s Jamie Gorelick.)
While Nickles will serve as the nominal chairman of the practice, when a project comes along, the person who leads the work will “really depend on who got the first call,” he said.
Nickles, who is 72, said he considered a number of options before deciding to return to Covington, including retiring altogether. The latter option, he said, he didn’t give too much thought. “I’m too healthy and active to retire right now. Besides, this kind of work is too much fun,” he said.