For more than a half-century, downtown’s Munger Tolles & Olson has defied the geographic expansion that many of the firm’s big law competitors used as a mechanism for growth. Outside of its home base in Los Angeles, the firm had only opened one other office, in San Francisco.

That changed last week.

Munger announced that Donald Verrilli Jr., solicitor general for President Barack Obama’s administration since 2011, would spearhead the formation of a Washington, D.C., office.

“Getting to open an office is a huge opportunity,” Verrilli said. “Hopefully I’ll get to put my stamp on it and leave something meaningful behind.”

Verrilli, who before his government service was a partner with Jenner & Block, will be joined in the D.C. office by Michael DeSanctis, a former Jenner managing partner, and Chad Golder, former deputy associate attorney general.

Despite the small initial footprint, Verrilli, who resigned as solicitor general in June, said the Munger brand and support structure would allow the office to take on any case.

“Munger is an ideal platform for the type of practice I want to have now,” he said. “They bring lean teams of incredible lawyers to solve complex problems. It’s a perfect match.”

Brad Brian, Munger’s co-managing partner, said the firm was still giddy about landing Verrilli. The recruitment started immediately after Verrilli argued his last case as solicitor general and that multiple partners flew out to meet him in D.C. during the recruitment period.

“We try and hire the most talented lawyers in the country and when we saw he was leaving the government we thought, Hey, this guy fits the bill!” Brian said.

The firm doesn’t have a formal plan for how the D.C. office will grow, but Brian likened it to Munger’s San Francisco branch, which now houses 40 attorneys, compared with seven in 1991.

“The San Francisco office opened 25 years ago and grew organically and we see that as a good model,” Brian said.

Given Verrilli’s expertise, the office will almost certainly feature a strong appellate practice and likely vault Munger into the realm of elite firms that argue regularly in front of the Supreme Court. However, Brian said that it won’t be a one-dimensional office.

“There’s no doubt that Don will attract some Supreme Court and appellate cases, but we don’t see this as an appellate boutique branch of the firm,” Brian said. “People view us as problem-solvers and the type of work (Verrilli, DeSanctis, and Golder) do is very much in line with that mentality.”

Verrilli spent five years as the top appellate attorney in the Obama administration, arguing 37 cases in front of the Supreme Court. His nuanced defense of the Affordable Care Act twice saved the legislation from constitutional challenges and remains one of his defining achievements.

“The two health care cases … were particularly fulfilling to be a part of,” he said. “At issue was a social policy of enormous consequence and I felt the lawyering made a difference.”

And his advice to a successor?

“The best advice you can give to anybody in (the solicitor general’s chair) is to act with integrity and be true to yourself,” he said.

Seyfarth Sued

Life-skills firm Landmark Worldwide sued Century City-based Seyfarth Shaw last week alleging the firm’s negligent representation of the company in an employment dispute was tantamount to legal malpractice.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims Seyfarth attorneys failed to inquire about a liability insurance policy held by Landmark that would have covered legal expenses. The suit also claims the firm charged the company, which puts on self-help seminars around the world, higher rates than it would have if the insurance policy was invoked.

Landmark’s attorney, Beverly Hills-based James Rosen of Rosen Saba, said his client is asking for $2 million in legal fees to be returned along with other possible remedies.

“If I’m able to prove the firm knowingly and willfully failed to contact the insurance carrier in order to charge (higher) rates, I will absolutely seek punitive damages,” Rosen said.

The underlying case at issue was a wrongful termination suit brought by a former Landmark employee in March 2015.

Seyfarth did not respond to a request for comment.

Legal Landscape

Liner poached partner Delilah Vinzon and two other attorneys from Century City’s Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy. Vinzon will be based in Liner’s Westwood office. … Downtown’s Nixon Peabody added Bryan LeRoy, formerly of Manatt Phelps & Phillips in West Los Angeles, to its transactional practice group.

Staff reporter Henry Meier can be reached at hmeier@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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