Law firm Perkins Coie elects first D.C.-based leader

Perkins Coie, the Seattle-based law firm with 1,000 attorneys
in the United States and Asia, has named a D.C.-based managing partner for the first time in the firm’s 102-year history.

In the first leadership change at the firm in 28 years, litigator John Devaney will take over in January 2015, the firm said on Tuesday. Devaney, 56, has been an attorney at the firm since 1988, and his rise to its top post marks the culmination of a decade in which Perkins Coie evolved from a regional firm — operating primarily out of the Pacific Northwest — into a national legal powerhouse with offices in almost every major U.S. market, Devaney said.

“We have a majority of lawyers outside Seattle now, and my appointment is reflective of the fact that we’ve become a true national firm,” he said.

In the District, Perkins Coie is best known for its political law practice, representing Democratic candidates and committees, and is home to Bob Bauer, President Obama’s lawyer for the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and White House Counsel from 2010 to 2011.

The firm represents plaintiffs in several lawsuits challenging voter ID statutes and redistricting laws in North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. The North Carolina case, on which Devaney is working, represents a group of college students who allege that recent changes to state law make it harder for young people to vote. Under the law, college IDs will no longer be considered a valid form of identification to register and vote.

Devaney said Perkins Coie will continue to distinguish itself in the competitive market for legal services by remaining open to alternative fee arrangements. Such an approach is typically less expensive than traditional hourly billing, and includes flat fees, success fees and contingency fees.

“We have a more flexible rate structure than some firms, in part, because of our broad geographic diversity and different rates structures in different offices,” he said. “And we tend to staff matters efficiently so that we’re careful not to ‘over-lawyer’ transactions and litigation.”

Devaney said the firm plans to expand in data privacy, intellectual property, environmental law and energy, and what he called an “emerging company practice” — helping start-ups find financing, form corporations and go public. The firm runs a Web site called Startup Percolator that allows entrepreneurs to create free legal documents.

Geographically, the firm sees Los Angeles; San Francisco; Palo Alto, Calif.; Chicago; New York; and Washington as key growth areas. During Devaney’s first 20 years at Perkins Coie, the firm maintained about 40 attorneys in D.C., but over the past seven years, that number has more than doubled to nearly 100.

“We’re seeing good legal demand here in the D.C. market and have increased our visibility as a firm in this market,” he said.

The firm has no plans to expand internationally beyond its existing offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, Taiwan, he said.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community. For more Washington business news, go to www.capbiz.biz.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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