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National Security Experience a Growing Draw for Big Law (Corrected)

Sept. 25, 2019, 8:50 AMUpdated: Sept. 25, 2019, 4:52 PM

Large law firms have stepped up hiring of lawyers with national security backgrounds to address emerging client concerns, as geopolitical uncertainty continues and raises new and vexing questions for companies’ operations.

Morrison & Foerster, O’Melveny & Myers, King & Spalding, and Covington & Burling are among the firms that have been bringing on officials with national security and related expertise from the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, the Treasury Department and other agencies.

In an ever more global business environment, where the stakes are high, law firms are taking advantage of the opportunity to recruit talent with a focus on issues such as the work of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS.

“The line between the economy and national security has been blurred,” said Steve Bunnell, a former general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security hired in 2017 by O’Melveny & Myers. “Clients want broad advice because they are operating around the world, and they need to know how their strategy and their products interplay with other countries.”

Expertise Wanted

CFIUS is a grouping of government agencies chaired by the Treasury Department that reviews the potential national security effects of foreign investment in U.S. companies.

“There are many firms vying for expertise in foreign investment review,” said Dan Binstock, a partner recruiter for legal search firm Garrison & Sisson.

“This is a very good time for a lawyer with CFIUS experience,” he said.

The call for CFIUS expertise grew after Congress updated a law last year that helps ramp up oversight of foreign investment. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations, upping national security scrutiny of foreign investment deals that involve data, technologies and infrastructure.

And the stakes on CFIUS can be high, as shown when the Trump administration in 2017 nixed a $1.3 billion semiconductor deal involving a Chinese company with state ties.

The administration cited national security concerns in scuttling the deal. Going forward, expanded government scrutiny “is likely to include deals involving access to health data, financial information and behavioral data,” said Lee Wolosky, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, who served on the National Security Council under two presidents.

In response to client demand, Boies Schiller plans to start a national security practice in coming weeks, Wolosky said. Initially, the firm will use its existing lawyers but could expand.

Making Moves

Often expertise in government enforcement and on the growing issues of cybersecurity and data privacy—another hot topic for clients—can also be found in hires with national security backgrounds.

O’Melveny has built its ranks by adding prominent former government officials in its data security and privacy practice. They include partners Bunnell and this year, Lisa Monaco, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama, and firm counsel John Dermody, a former deputy legal adviser at the National Security Council.

Mark Jensen, managing partner of King & Spalding’s Washington office, noted that his firm has hired several new laterals. One is former FBI official Sumon Dantiki, whose national security credentials Jensen called “impeccable.”

“He’s part of the package we offer companies in how to protect their data and technologies from global cybersecurity threats,” Jensen added.

Morrison & Foerster said it, too, had been bulking up national security offerings with senior lateral hires. In recent years, the firm has added four partners, including John Carlin, former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s national security division.

Trisha Anderson, a former high-ranking FBI official who handled complex national security and cyber legal issues, last year rejoined Covington & Burling as a partner focusing on national security and related matters.

(Corrects 13th paragraph to show Dermody as firm counsel.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at; Rebekah Mintzer at