Relatively tiny Williams & Connolly has resisted
globalization and continues to hold its own against firms ten times
its size by following a basic mantra: keep it simple. The firm's
250+ attorneys focus almost exclusively on litigation from a lone
office in Washington, DC, positioning Williams & Connolly as a
go-to firm for politicos, celebrities, professional athletes and
even other law firms.
A Short, Illustrious History
Legendary litigator-to-the-stars Edward Bennett Williams teamed
with Paul Connolly, a former student of his at Georgetown Law, to
open shop in 1967. The fledgling firm soon boasted a client list
that included the biggest names in Hollywood, politics and media-a
pattern that continues to the present with representation of-among
others-Oliver North, John Hinckley Jr. and Bill and Hillary Clinton
during the Whitewater and Lewinsky years.
The personality cult built around Williams-Jimmy Hoffa's lawyer
and one-time owner of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore
Orioles-brought the firm attention and cemented its reputation as a
Beltway go-to. But the firm isn't just about entertainment-it has
political ties in high, high places: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice
of the Supreme Court, is a former associate of the firm.
High-flying political connections aside, however, Williams &
Connolly's bread-and-butter lies in its representation of such
institutions as Wyeth, UBS, Pfizer, General Electric, Office Depot,
Merck, Sony, The Washington Post, Medco, Bechtel, Mars, McDonald's,
JM Family Enterprises, AutoNation, Inc., Marriott International,
Inc. and Time Warner, Inc.
Shoot for the Stars
Keeping with its individualist ethos, Williams & Connolly
operates without strict departmental boundaries, allowing attorneys
to bounce among any number of litigation areas and, thus, creating
great flexibility within the firm. That said, successful associates
tend to gravitate toward specific focal areas as they become more
experienced, as is exemplified by partner Robert Barnett. In
addition to litigating for corporate clients such as Deutsche Bank,
McDonald's Corp. and Toyota, Barnett is one of the foremost
representatives of non-fiction literary and television talent in
the nation. He has represented the Clintons, Jordan's Queen Noor,
Benazir Bhutto, Barack Obama and Tony Blair on book deals. Barnett
has also helped Katie Couric, Sam Donaldson and CNN contributor
Sanjay Gupta remain handsomely paid.
Come election time, Barnett basks in the spotlight himself,
taking on the persona of the opponent in debate preparations with
White House hopefuls in every presidential race save one since
1976. He's recently been typecast, it would seem: Barnett played
Dick Cheney in mock debates with Joe Lieberman in 2000 and John
Edwards in 2004. And while Barnett's ability to mimic GOP running
mate Sarah Palin seems a bit less realistic, Barnett was able to
help her fetch a handsome book deal in spring 2009. In addition to
the reported seven-figure advance he secured for former Gov. Palin,
Barnett has recently negotiated deals for the late Ted Kennedy,
Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton-reportedly brokering a record $12
million advance for the latter and his voluminous 2004 memoir.
Big Base, No Bonus
As one might expect of a firm that plays by its own rules, Williams
& Connolly's no-bonus compensation structure is a bit of an
anomaly in the legal arena. The firm, however, endeavors to make up
for the absence of stocking stuffers by routinely leading the pack
in the race to pay first-year associates exorbitant sums of cash.
Just a year after upping its price for first-years to $165,000 to
compete with the New York firms, Williams & Connolly increased
its beginning salary again, this time to $180,000, in late 2007.
The latter figure represented a $20,000 cushion over most other
BigLaw firms around the nation, including New York.