In the 35 years since Latham & Watkins established its Washington presence, the firm has grown from an outpost to one of the 10 largest offices in the District. At the helm is Alice Fisher, managing partner of Washington office since March 2011.
A common thread among many of the attorneys in the office is that they have served in various high-level government positions. Fisher is no exception. She joined the firm in 1996, and decamped for the Department of Justice in July 2001 to serve as the deputy assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division. She rejoined the firm in October 2003, only to leave once more for Main Justice to serve as assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division in September 2005. She returned a second time to the firm in 2008.
Fisher focuses on white-collar matters, particularly criminal and internal investigations. Her clients include the NCAA, the Hospital Corporation of America and Eli Lilly & Co. Legal Times sat down with Fisher earlier this month to discuss firm business, the DOJ Criminal Division and diversity in the legal community.
Legal Times: What is keeping Latham's Washington attorneys busy these days?
Fisher: The whole office has been very busy for quite some time. The office has over 280 attorneys and it’s the second biggest office in the firm. We have the biggest litigation office in the firm. We also have a very large corporate practice here in D.C. They have been very busy doing both M&A transactions and private equity work. We have a whole host of strong regulatory practices; communications, healthcare, environmental, finance and tax. In litigation we have white collar, intellectual property and general litigation. Our Supreme Court practice argued four cases before the court this last term. If you focus on 2013, each one of those departments has been busy.
What effect does the government have on the business of the firm?
Latham has had a long history. We are celebrating our 35th anniversary in D.C. The government impact dates back to when Latham started 35 years ago when the office was started by Carla and Rod Hills. Carla later became the U.S. Trade Representative, but at the time she was [Housing and Urban Development] secretary. At the time, there were going to be eight attorneys. From her, all the way through our history in this office, we have had a significant number of partners and associates go from Latham to government and come from the government to Latham. I think that really has a significant impact on our practice, our expertise and the way we have been successful though the years.
If you look at any slice of our time, we've constantly had that relationship with the government. That is important to our practice, because we have a very strong interaction with the government at so many agencies and at so many levels. It does impact what clients expect from us and what we can deliver as far as those relationships and expertise. I think the Washington office of Latham is unique in that we're able to provide that expertise to all of our other offices. We have offices around the world that have global clients that need to understand how to best interact with the government. We in the Washington office provide that expertise.
The office has about 280 attorneys. What is growth plan for the future?
I think the growth strategy in the future would be to identify strategic areas and needs that we think would be a good fit for our platform. We don't have a target number of how many attorneys we would like to add or what our headcount will be in five to 10 years. It is more of a path where we are constantly on the lookout for strategic adds. Sometimes that is a practice group. Sometimes it is individual lawyers. We try to grow in a way that fits our clients' needs.
What is keeping you personally busy?
I view leading the office as finding ways to support the lawyers and staff in the D.C. office. It's not only about the administrative side of the office, but it's more really an honor to be able to try to support the growth of the office and its function. On the practice side, one of the things that I set out to do which was important was to not decrease my practice at all. I love what I do in the white-collar space. I have been doing it quite a while and I like the breadth of it, the interaction with clients and to be able to work through issues and problems on the strategic side. We have a very strong white collar practice here in D.C. and globally. It ranges in issues such as healthcare fraud, international criminal work, export sanctions, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act work or money laundering. We do securities fraud work. It runs the gamut. Sometimes it goes into the civil side as well.
What areas within white-collar have been an important focus of the government?
I think healthcare fraud and litigation in all sectors are going to be an important priority in the government and therefore an important practice area for white-collar practitioners. There is dedicated money that goes toward prosecutors and agents at the Department of Justice specifically focused on healthcare fraud. That means the government will continue to pursue those types of cases. I think the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act practice area will continue to be busy. I tend to think about where the government is likely to go. What are they saying about their priorities? What Department of Justice priorities is the money funding? That is where companies need to think about putting their resources when it comes to compliance and risk assessments.
What are your thoughts on the present state of the DOJ's Criminal Division?
It's a wonderful institution. In particular, the attorneys and staff in the Criminal Division will always remain very dear to my heart. They do great work every day. They have a mission and they fulfill their public service. I think the leadership may change, but really the heart and soul of the Criminal Division are the prosecutors that come to work every day and fight all sorts of crime. That is the heart and soul of the division.
What do you think of the Washington legal market?
Generally the Washington legal market will always remain fairly strong because clients are interfacing with the government at some level as a general matter and they are going to need lawyers and attorneys at Washington. My sense from talking to my colleagues and other managing partners is that the legal market in D.C. is good. But everyone is cautious about making sure they are watching the market.
Latham very much approaches the client relationship in a service-oriented manner. That is listening and addressing their needs and concerns and problems or opportunities in a way that focuses on the clients. We have industry clients and industry expertise in addition to our practice groups. We try to cover all of their problems.
There are certainly some instances where an alternative fee arrangement can work for some parties. There are on occasion other types of arrangement. I don't find a lot of clients asking for that in the white-collar space. It might be a matter-specific issue where it makes sense.
What are your thoughts on women and diversity in the legal industry?
I think that the role of women in the legal industry is a very significant and important issue for people to be discussing. The promotion of women and the retention of women are issues we should all be focused on. Clients expect it and want to know about diversity efforts. They often want to be involved in diversity efforts. We have done all sorts of events that are focused on retaining junior associates, senior partners and everyone in between.
This is part of a series of Q&A sessions Legal Times is conducting with D.C.-based law firm managing partners. Photo by The National Law Journal's Diego M. Radzinschi.