Summary List Placement
As the Trump White House and federal agencies filled their ranks with political appointees, they hired heavily from two law firms — Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis. In the few months since Trump left office, only one of them has been interested in bringing those lawyers back.
Jones Day has been on a tear hiring Trump administration alumni, including some who hadn’t previously worked at the firm. Since January, the firm has hired seven Trump-appointed US attorneys and top officials from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, after previously recruiting or welcoming back several other top officials.
But Kirkland & Ellis has hired only one top Trump administration official back. Some Kirkland alumni have joined other firms since leaving the Trump administration, but most others — including former Attorney General William Barr and Jeffrey Rosen, who served as the second-ranking Justice Department official — have yet to find homes in the private sector.
It’s common for law firms to rehire partners after they spend time in government, and lawyers frequently shuffle back into private practice at the end of any administration. But within the legal industry, many are taking note of how Kirkland has apparently washed its hands of prominent alumni who held Senate-confirmed roles in the Trump administration.
“Trump was different. The firm can’t have these senior officials back,” said one person familiar with the firm.
Some Kirkland alumni weren’t necessarily interested in coming back. For others, the Trump administration came at a natural time of separation from the firm, and a return was never up for consideration.
Kirkland is still open to hiring lower-level Trump administration officials, but the pool of prospective recruits is small, according to three people familiar with the firm’s approach.
The riot at the Capitol on January 6 only further complicated the job prospects for lawyers leaving the Trump administration, creating one more delicate topic during job interviews.
“After January 6, it became much more of a real thing than it was before,” a former Trump administration official said. “It was really bad for people who had nothing to do with it, probably abhorred it, but still were in the administration when it happened or were on the market. There’s definitely a reluctance to hire people out of the administration.”
But the differences between Jones Day and Kirkland run deeper than the current political moment. In 11 interviews, people familiar with the firms’ divergent approaches to hiring from the Trump administration said the pattern reflected more than just a reaction to what some call the “Trump taint.”
The differences in firm culture and clientele, and differences in the career arcs of the lawyers who came from the firms into the Trump administration, help explain what happened. The people who spoke with Insider for this story did so on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to jeopardize relationships in government and the legal industry.
Despite sharing deep conservative roots, the firms have taken different paths
Neither Kirkland nor Jones Day is particularly vocal about its politics, but both firms have long histories in conservative legal circles. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Ken Starr both worked at Kirkland before and after their investigation of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. The firm also fed partners into the George W. Bush administration. Paul Clement, a prominent appellate partner at the firm, served under the Bush administration as solicitor general, the Justice Department’s chief advocate before the Supreme Court.
Jones Day’s conservative ties go back even further. Luther Day, a partner at the firm, beat an effort by Democratic President Harry Truman to nationalize steel mills in the 1950s. The firm also helped Big Oil companies kill an oil-import fee sought by Democratic President Jimmy Carter and helped Ronald Reagan win a campaign-finance dispute in 1980. Jones Day also likes to tout its history, stability, and ties to power. A book about the firm’s history published in the ’90s is subtitled “The First Century.”
Jones Day has been a go-to law firm for Trump’s campaign and other Republican organizations seeking legal advice. Jones Day represented the Pennsylvania Republican Party amid the election disputes surrounding President Joe Biden’s victory. The firm received bad press about its close ties to the administration, with some partners saying the election work made them feel uncomfortable.
Since 2015, the firm has been paid more than $25 million by Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to the Financial Times.
Alumni of the two firms have charted different courses through the Trump administration. More Kirkland alumni — at least 14 — stayed on to the very last days of the Trump administration than did alumni of Jones Day, giving them less time to plan their departures.
Jones Day alumni left the administration far earlier. Of the 16 Jones Day alumni identified by Insider, only two left in 2021: Eric Dreiband, who resigned in January as the head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, and David Morrell, who was a top official in the civil division. Both rejoined the firm.
Kirkland may be more image-conscious and wary of Trump ties
While it has hundreds of litigators handling high-stakes disputes, Kirkland has evolved into a firm more centered on deal-making. It has 716 lawyers on its private-equity team, compared with 189 on Jones Day’s. In interviews, people familiar with Kirkland said that line of business — combined with the firm’s more-coastal client base — could make it more image-conscious and wary of Trump-affiliated lawyers than Jones Day.
Kirkland is considered within the legal industry as grueling and profit-focused, even by the standards of elite, hard-charging law firms. Some lawyers who left the firm for the Trump administration were seen as having stalled out or were considered in low standing when they left. For them, the Trump administration served as something of a professional lifeboat, while presenting an opportunity to pick up a credential as a top government official, according to two people familiar with the firm.
Jeffrey Bossert Clark had been a Kirkland partner for 13 years when he left in 2018 to head the Justice Department’s environment and natural-resources division. But he did not have equity in the firm, reflecting his lower status in the partnership ranks.
Clark plotted with Trump in the waning weeks of his administration to overturn the election results in Georgia, The New York Times reported. But the firm was not considering hiring him back even before that news broke, according to people familiar with the matter.
Two other former Kirkland lawyers, Patrick Philbin and John Eisenberg, found themselves in the headlines after joining the Trump White House. Philbin helped defend Trump in the first of his two impeachment trials, which concerned Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into Biden and his family.
Eisenberg was named in the scandal as the White House lawyer who ordered a transcript of the call to be moved to a highly classified server. Neither Philbin nor Eisenberg has returned to Kirkland.
Barr, in a brief interview, noted that he had not been a partner but instead held an “of counsel role” at Kirkland as he assisted Caterpillar through a federal tax investigation.
“I had no plans to go back to a firm like Kirkland — never talked to them,” said Barr, who is writing a book about his tenure in the Trump administration. “I’m not interested.”
A person familiar with Rosen said he had no plans of returning to Kirkland following the Trump administration.
Rosen, who served as deputy transportation secretary before becoming deputy attorney general, did not respond to a request for comment.
A representative for Kirkland declined to comment for this story. A representative for Jones Day did not return a request for comment.
‘Waiting for you when you get back’
There has so far been one exception to Kirkland’s apparent aversion to Trump officials.
Brian Benczkowski, who left Kirkland in 2018 to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, rejoined the firm in September. He benefited from having a relatively apolitical tenure in the Trump administration and from his close ties to Mark Filip, a top white-collar defense lawyer at Kirkland and former deputy attorney general who worked with Benczkowski at the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration.
One person familiar with former Kirkland lawyers who served in the Trump administration said that some had not yet returned to the private sector for family reasons.
Jones Day, meanwhile, is seen as having had a track record of encouraging lawyers to go into government service and welcoming them back. In a since dropped lawsuit brought by a group of women who accused the firm of sexual discrimination, a partner was recorded saying Jones Day’s leader Steve Brogan has awarded bonuses — “a nice little cushion” — to certain lawyers who join government.
“Part of the attitude is Jones Day will be waiting for you when you get back because it’s always there,” a former Trump administration official said.
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