Kannon K. Shanmugam will be moving to Paul Weiss to build a Supreme Court practice at a time when the firm is under attack over diversity issues, but he says he is ready to help the firm deliver on its commitment to improve in this area.
Paul Weiss announced Jan. 27 that the superstar Supreme Court litigator was joining the firm from Williams & Connolly to manage its Washington office and start a new appellate and Supreme Court practice. He’ll be replaced by Lisa Blatt, who is moving over to Williams & Connolly from Arnold & Porter.
Shanmugam, who is of Indian descent, arrived at the firm the same weekend that the New York Times published a story critical of Paul Weiss’ diversity record.
The Jan. 27 article said that Paul Weiss, like many big law firms, sidelines minorities and women, who face obstacles in the road toward partnership. Paul Weiss was also criticized in December 2018 for its newest partner class of 12 white attorneys, 11 of whom were men.
“There’s a lot of work to be done at Paul Weiss as there is at every other law firm,” Shanmugam said.
Retaining diverse attorneys is “one of the major challenges facing the legal industry today,” he said. But Shanmugam said it was actually Paul Weiss’ "long record of commitment to diversity” that was one of the firm’s attractions for him.
According to data compiled by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, women make up 21.58 percent of the Paul Weiss equity partner ranks.
Shanmugam said he’s committed to addressing the issue of diversity at the firm as managing partner for the Washington office.
Within five years, he “hopes and expects to have a group every bit as diverse” as the one he had at Williams & Connolly.
As for the new litigation team, Shanmugam said he plans to build it “organically” like he did at Williams & Connolly to ultimately have a “team that’s the right size for the needs of the practice.”
Supreme Court Firepower
Paul Weiss is one of the last great “superfirms” with a meaningful litigation practice but with no appellate practice, which is “a real oddity,” said Shanmugam. The last time it had a case at the Supreme Court was in 2012 in United States v. Windsor.
In that case, which was argued by former Paul Weiss litigator Roberta Kaplan, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of “marriage” as only between a man and a woman.
New York-based Paul Weiss, a firm of more than 1,000 lawyers worldwide, has long been known for its litigation and corporate benches, but has not previously had a practice aimed at high court arguments.
“This was a unique opportunity to build a Supreme Court practice in one of the world’s great law firms and to play a leadership role in the Washington office,” Shanmugam told Bloomberg Law.
Shanmugam has argued 27 cases before Supreme Court. In November, he represented families of victims of the 2000 suicide bombing attack on the destroyer USS Cole.
His replacement at Williams & Connolly, Blatt, who declined comment on her move, also has an impressive record of arguing before the High Court. She has argued 37 cases there—more than any other woman.
“We are thrilled to have Lisa come home,” Joe Petrosinelli, chairman of Williams & Connolly’s executive committee, said in a statement.