Stephen N. Shulman, a Washington lawyer who in 1973 helped his client, a onetime Nixon loyalist, negotiate a guilty plea in a case that became a turning point in the Watergate scandal, died Jan. 22 of cancer at Georgetown University Hospital. He was 77.
Mr. Shulman served an early clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court and by age 30 had become general counsel for the Air Force. In 1966, he became the second chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
After he left the government to go into private practice in 1967, one of his first prominent clients was Egil "Bud" Krogh, whose case became a key part of the political drama that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation.
Egil Krogh (pronounced "Eagle Krogue") had led the Nixon administration's war against drug trafficking and had been an undersecretary of transportation. He was "the White House Mr. Clean, so straight an arrow that his friends mockingly called him 'Evil Krogh,' " wrote Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate account "All the President's Men."
But in 1971, Nixon tapped Krogh to lead the White House "plumbers," a secret group charged with plugging leaks of classified information to the press. The job turned Krogh into a central player in the administration's illegal covert operations.
One of the plumbers' prime targets was Daniel Ellsberg, who had given the classified Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. In 1971, Krogh, seeking information to discredit Ellsberg, authorized White House staffers to break into the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.
Two years later, Krogh was charged in federal and state courts with burglary and perjury charges related to the break-in. He first pleaded not guilty, saying he had believed at the time that he was acting in the interest of national security.
But he came to realize, he wrote in the New York Times in 2007, that "some of us in the Nixon White House crossed the Rubicon into the realm of lawbreakers."
The change of heart was prompted partly by Mr. Shulman, who helped guide Krogh through a period of personal reckoning complicated by intense media attention. The lawyer was "instrumental," Krogh told The Post's Woodward, "in helping me determine that what I had done was not only illegal but morally wrong."
Mr. Shulman also played a key role in striking a deal with prosecutors. Krogh pleaded guilty to a charge of "conspiracy against rights of citizens." In return, other charges were dropped and Krogh agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation of the widening Watergate scandal.
At his sentencing, Krogh praised Mr. Shulman. "I have been represented by outstanding counsel," he said before the court, "who have undertaken a difficult task of protecting me and my rights before various bodies and also, perhaps, the more difficult task of protecting me against myself."
Krogh, who spent 4 1/2 months in prison, was the first of the president's staff to serve time. His public admissions about White House wrongdoings offered a compelling example of the Nixon administration's abuse of power and became a crucial step in the unraveling of the Watergate scandal.
The case also helped establish Mr. Shulman's reputation as a top-flight Washington litigator, and he went on to a long career specializing in employment and tax law. He served until the late 1990s as managing partner of the D.C. office of the New York firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
Most recently, he had practiced with Ivins, Phillips & Barker, where he worked until his death.
Stephen Neal Shulman was born April 6, 1933, in New Haven, Conn. His father was Harry Shulman, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who rose to become dean of Yale's law school.
Shortly after Mr. Shulman graduated from Harvard in 1954, his father died. Mr. Shulman matriculated at Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal before graduating in 1958.
He began his career as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan and in 1961 became chief of staff to Arthur Goldberg, then secretary of labor.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Sandra Still Shulman of McLean; three sons, Harry Shulman of San Francisco and Dean Shulman and John Shulman, both of Washington; and five grandchildren.
Mr. Shulman resolved to exercise in his 30s, his family said, and did not miss a day of exercise for the next 40 years.
Krogh recalled, in his memoir of the Watergate era, that Mr. Shulman had occasionally used one-arm push-up competitions to bring levity to difficult moments.
"As I'd crumple to the floor," Krogh recalled, "Steve would continue counting into the twenties, then switch arms."