Masha Hansford, left, and Kannon K. Shanmugam, right, of Paul Weiss. (Courtesy photo)
It's been just three months since Kannon Shanmugam left Williams & Connolly to launch a U.S. Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. According to both Shanmugam and his new firm, the move is already paying off.
The group has grown rapidly since Shanmugam swapped firms at the end of January. Five more lawyers followed him from Williams & Connolly, and Paul Weiss' website now identifies more than a dozen lawyers in the group, including several partners who are also members of the firm's intellectual property practice.
Former Williams & Connolly associates Stacie Fahsel, Joel Johnson, William Marks and Benjamin Moskowitz are now with Paul Weiss in Washington, D.C., while Masha Hansford joined the firm as of counsel in Washington, D.C.
Hansford said Shanmugam had reached out about her about joining, and the chance was too attractive to pass up.
“It’s really unusual for a Wall Street law firm … to go into building a Supreme Court practice, and that’s really a great opportunity and such an exciting thing to be able to be a part of that and be able to build something from the ground up,” Hansford said.
She said she first began working with Shanmugam in 2010 when she was a summer associate. After successive clerkships with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, she returned to Williams & Connolly as an associate in 2013.
Shanmugam, a former U.S. solicitor general, joined Williams & Connolly as its first lateral partner in 32 years in 2008 and quickly began building its Supreme Court and appellate practice.
A former clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Shanmugam has argued in front of the Supreme Court a total of 27 times and, in 2018, he achieved the rare feat of receiving three certiorari grants in pending cases on the same day.
"We've considered launching a Supreme Court and appellate practice for several decades," said Paul Weiss chairman Brad Karp, who has led the firm since 2008. "But it didn't make sense for us to do so unless we could find a star to lead the practice. The opportunity to launch the practice under Kannon's leadership was a no-brainer for us."
Brad Karp. Photo: David Handschuh/ALM
"I think this is a very natural thing for Paul Weiss to do as one of the country’s great litigation firms," Shanmugam said. "Litigation is very much in the DNA of Paul Weiss and it has been since the foundation of the firm," he said, citing famed Paul Weiss advocates Simon Rifkind and Arthur Liman.
But unlike when he formed his team at the strictly litigation-only shop, starting the first-ever Supreme Court and appellate practice at the corporate and litigation focused Paul Weiss presented a unique opportunity.
"Paul Weiss is a wonderful and bigger platform in the sense that it has strengths in so many different areas other than litigation," Shanmugam said, noting the firm's strong transactional restructuring and private equity practices.
He said he eventually wants Paul Weiss to be a leading firm for bankruptcy appeals, securities litigation appeals and white-collar appeals.
Building that capacity aligns naturally with the firm's strategy, Karp said, noting the firm's commitment to its core litigation and white-collar regulatory practices. The litigation lifecycle regularly extends beyond the trial courts, and being able to handle the work in-house gives the firm a competitive advantage.
Having appellate specialists like Shanmugam involved in a case early on also helps ensure that matters are being expertly positioned for appellate review, Karp noted.
There's also the promise of new business that comes with a dedicated appellate practice led by a brand-name advocate.
“I envision a number of one-off, appellate assignments where Kannon will be retained by clients that are new to the firm," Karp said. "Our goal will be to do everything we possibly can to institutionalize those clients and convert them into firm clients going forward.”
The firm has already claimed a new client win in Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus, a case that Shanmugam argued before he arrived at Paul Weiss. The court ruled unanimously in favor of law firm McCarthy & Holthus pertaining to the scope of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).
Shanmugam and his team have also been retained in several criminal and district court appeals since joining Paul Weiss, including representing Platinum Partners co-founder Murray Huberfeld's appeal of his bribery conviction.
“My goal is to have a market-leading practice in every area in which the firm operates,” Karp said. “We would not launch a Supreme Court appellate practice unless we could credibly claim to be the best in the business. Kannon’s arrival allows us to make that claim.”