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by Vault Law Editors | December 11, 2008

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This holiday season, America affords us an extra-special gift: BigLaw?s Thunderdome-style cagematch over coveted Obama administration posts.

We know (hope?) there are some stubborn, up-and-coming idealists in this year?s crop, but let?s be realistic: Most of the prominent BigLaw names under consideration are longtime D.C. insiders?attorneys with political savvy who?ve built careers by alternating with ease between serving the public and making rain, depending on the climate (though there?s also K Street, where the ?third house? tag takes on a different meaning with this lawyerly lot). Nevertheless, an administration gig, while representing a pay cut for many, lends endless prestige to any attorney?s CV. Central to this, of course, is the expectation of prospective employers and clients that anyone worth his or her salt will have nurtured substantial, enduring political ties to the Beltway power nexus by the time they exit stage left. In other words, it?s all about The Juice (insert stale O.J. quip here).

Those already lining up at the trough include former O?Melveny & Myers partner Thomas Donilon, a one-time Fannie Mae lobbyist who?s watching over State Department issues for the Obama transition team. Donilon, who worked under presidents Carter and Clinton and is rumored to be in line for the deputy national security advisor slot, could soon be working closely again with former colleague Ronald Klain, who was selected as VP-elect Joe Biden?s chief-of-staff last month. Klain?s no political neophyte: He filled the same role for Janet Reno and Al Gore and served as a senior advisor during Gore?s 2000 presidential campaign (though we don?t see more than a passing resemblance between him and Kevin Spacey?namely that they?re both white and comb their hair). At least two other OMM alums have also landed positions: Future White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera and Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President Terrell McSweeny.

Others stuck in the rumor mill include former Navy Secretary and Latham partner Richard Danzig, a defense policy advisor to Obama who?s reportedly a leading contender for deputy defense secretary, and Bob Bauer of Perkins Coie fame, who?s ruled out a full-time administration job but will continue to counsel the Obamas on personal and campaign matters. For the in-house tasks, Obama has tapped Williams & Connolly partner Gregory Craig, a man whose résumé would seem to preclude him from such consideration under a GOP administration: Aside from co-representing The Washington Post and its editorial staff during Watergate and the Spiro Agnew investigation, Craig defended John Hinckley post-assassination attempt, advised Ted Kennedy on foreign policy and national security during the ?80s, and worked under Madeleine Albright in the ?90s. He also, in his firm?s words, ?served as quarterback? of the Clinton impeachment defense team and, more recently, counseled Kofi Annan as the Volcker Commission scrutinized the U.N.?s Oil-for-Food Programme. No O?Reilly props on the horizon, safe to say.

Tomorrow: A look at DOJ and FTC appointments, an evolving judiciary, and the one-time lawyers who?re set to rule the roost.

-posted by ben fuchs

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