In a move much anticipated by the Washington law and lobbying community, former Senate Republican leader and presidential candidate Robert J. Dole (Kans.) has decided to join the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird.
When it became clear that his previous perch, the D.C. firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, was in serious talks to be acquired by Piper Rudnick last year, more than 20 firms approached Dole about signing on with them instead, according to his lawyer Robert Barnett of Williams & Connolly.
"I did a lot of looking. People wanted to see me," Dole said in an interview yesterday. "Verner, Liipfert was a good home. . . . But I wanted to think about where I would make my last move."
Two observers of the wooing of Dole said the Alston & Bird deal means more than $1 million a year to the former senator, a severely wounded World War II hero who has become popularly known in recent years for his wry wit, television advertisements and marriage to Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who won election to the Senate from North Carolina last year.
Dole, Barnett and Alston & Bird managing partner Ben Johnson III declined to comment on money.
"No firm is going to make a deal that doesn't make economic sense," said Barnett, who has negotiated lucrative deals for a number of prominent politicians and journalists. He added that Dole is one of a small number of people in Washington whose "presence at a law firm has special value."
Dole's clients include Kosovo, Taiwan and Slovenia , among other countries. He has also been registered to lobby on behalf of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Earlier, he represented Tyco and the Chocolate Industry Coalition.
While he'll be advising clients on how to lobby the Hill, helping to open doors and recruiting clients, Dole says he won't be lobbying his former colleagues in the Senate -- or his wife.
"I never thought that was my bag after being leader," Dole said.
Dole almost assuredly will boost the national profile of the 675-lawyer Alston & Bird. Proud of his firm's lawyers, Johnson said "not withstanding that, Alston & Bird is still perceived as an Atlanta-based firm. . . . We need to be seen as having more of a presence in Washington and New York. . . . No firm in America has the capacity to advise [clients] as well as we do. No one can provide you what a Bob Dole can provide you."
Dole said a "bit" of the attraction of Alston & Bird is that it has offices in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. But he said he will be spending most of his time in Washington.
A senior partner in Atlanta, Oscar Persons, is an old friend. He was the Georgia chairman of Dole's presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1996.
Foreign policy adviser Marshall Harris and media adviser Mike Marshall will follow Dole to the firm.
Johnson noted Dole's work with former president Bill Clinton to raise $110 million for a scholarship fund for the children of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, his campaign to raise funds for a World War II memorial and his efforts on health care issues.
"He's someone who's always been a hero of mine, and I say that as a Democrat," Johnson said.
Dole's former partners were gracious about his decision. Former senator George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and Berl Bernhard, both now at Piper Rudnick, said in a statement: "Senator Dole made enormous contributions to the success of Verner Liipfert. His good will and extraordinary humor have enlivened the firm."