Perkins Coie selects first D.C.-based leader

Perkins Coie, the Seattle-based law firm with 1,000 lawyers in the United States and Asia, is naming a Washington-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 January 2015, the firm plans to announce Tuesday. Devaney, 56, has been an attorney at Perkins Coie since 1988. His rise to the firm’s top leadership 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.

“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,” Devaney said.

In Washington, 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 is currently representing plaintiffs in several lawsuits challenging voter ID statutes and redistricting laws in North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. Devaney himself is working on the case in North Carolina, representing a group of college students who allege that recent changes to state law make it harder for young people to vote. Under the new 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 with clients. Such fees are typically less expensive than traditional hourly billing, and include flat fees, success fees and contingency fees. The legal industry by and large has had to accept alternative fees since the recession forced corporate clients to scale back on legal spending.

“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 and energy, and what he called an “emerging company practice” — helping start-ups to 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 immediate plans to expand internationally beyond its existing offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, he said.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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