Editor: What was your vision when you founded Wiley Rein?
Wiley: I joined Kirkland & Ellis after leaving the FCC chairmanship. I had known Bert while he was in the State Department, and I met him again at Kirkland. In 1983, that firm decided to take on a client in Chicago that conflicted with the competitive communications practice that I was developing, so I felt I had to leave. Fortunately, Bert and Jim Wallace, who was our top IP lawyer, along with half of K&E’s then-DC office, decided to join me. Our departure was on a friendly basis. We had a number of big firms actively seeking us, but we decided to take a chance in opening our own firm. I don’t know if you would make that choice in 2013, but in 1983 firms were smaller, allowing us to start with 39 lawyers. Now, we have about 280 attorneys, so our timing was right, and it has all worked.
Editor: Have you realized your initial goals?
Wiley: Our goal was to build a large, diversified firm that would involve a number of different practices – basically, in regulation, litigation and transactional matters. We also wanted to have a collegial, team-oriented partnership, where people could enjoy what they were doing. Over the years, we have had a very stable membership. We don’t lose people very often except to the federal government. We largely have achieved our original plan, but the glass is only half full – we hope to keep going.
The firm’s culture is very important to our lawyers. They talk about it, and the next generation seems to value it as much as Bert and I have. Our compensation system is not in any way formulaic, but premised on working together as a team, sharing clients, and being rewarded accordingly.
Rein: At the outset we knew we were in a very vibrant market – that there would always be a need for lawyers to help businesses concerned about government activity. By being effective in focusing on the interaction between business and government, we sought to develop a Washington-based practice. Working as a unified group, we felt we could cross-fertilize our talents, making the lawyers all feel part of the enterprise, thus producing job satisfaction and economic viability. Another one of our goals has been to maintain financial stability and decent profits for partners.
In terms of our external relations with clients, we feel that we must bring added value in being creative about client needs. Internally, we feel the same way about our lawyers. We tend to measure people by their ability to add value to the performance of the law firm. It gives our lawyers great encouragement to know that their contributions will be recognized.
Editor: Is this one of the distinguishing marks of the firm as contrasted with other Washington firms?
Wiley: Yes, and while we have a national and international practice, we conduct it entirely from the Washington, DC area. Our focus is on specialty practices that mirror the federal government. Maintaining our practice from one geographical area helps to make us very efficient, allowing us to pass these economies on to our clients.
Rein: Our lawyers are measured differently from those in other firms in terms of their ability to lend their insights into client matters. They consider themselves team players whereby they can add value and be listened to and have their suggestions incorporated into the fabric of a project.
Editor: To what do you attribute the firm’s longevity and success, in addition to the other factors you’ve mentioned?
Wiley: We have excellent lawyers. We started with good people from Kirkland and have built the firm emphasizing professional skill. We also are fortunate to have blue-chip clients within our specialty areas – a nice combination. Additionally, we have a top-notch veteran staff, including Barry Strauss, who has been our firm administrator from the start. We have a great deal of firm cohesion, which is a source of pride and satisfaction for us.
We have expanded our major practices along the lines that technology has mandated. For example, in the communications field, we have a number of lawyers who have technical degrees, and we also have added several former FCC engineers. We have kept pace with the times and technological changes, just as the industries we represent have likewise evolved.
Rein: We’ve also been adaptable. Many practice areas that were important to us when we started and that reflected the way government then interfaced with business have disappeared. We had a substantial practice with the Civil Aeronautics Board, which no longer exists, but we were able to retool that practice in working with the aviation industry in different ways. We recognize that where government is putting its attention today is not a constant. Even in the communications area, our emphasis has changed radically from where the communications business was when we first started, which consisted of broadcasting, a satellite start-up, and the beginnings of cable. We have been attentive to wireless and the new media and have stayed current with the direction of business and the government.
Editor: What is the key to the long and fruitful partnership between the two of you?
Rein: It is mutual respect. I have watched Dick over time, admiring his capability not only in terms of client performance but in his feeling for the morale of the firm and his style of management in using the resources of the firm. We have split areas of responsibility, which has made it easier to get our work done. Starting with the idea that the administrative side of the firm was largely going to be consigned to the firm administrator, we and the lawyers stayed away from petty areas that can cause dissension within firms.
Wiley: We always have agreed on the objectives for the firm and the atmosphere we wanted to create. Bert has been our quality control man while I have served in a management role. These two different skills have nicely meshed. And we have developed the firm by bringing in laterals who liked the idea of a Washington-based firm.
Editor: Perhaps you could tell us your memorable accomplishments, in your own practices or on behalf of the firm, over the past 30 years.
Rein: One of the things I have been involved in for a long time has been Intelsat, which started out as a consortium led by COMSAT to create an international satellite system. It has evolved into a large, intergovernmental organization. We represented the privatization of Intelsat, changing it back from a government organization into a private company. Now it’s about to go into the public market. Just watching the evolution of a major contributor to communications around the world has been interesting. I’ve also worked with the airline industry for a long time, trying to improve its position as a deregulated private enterprise around the world as well as reform some of the impediments imposed by regulation.
Wiley: For me, it has been two primary things: one is client focused, and the other pro bono. I have worked on many of the major mergers in the communications field over the last several decades. As the Bell company was broken up and then somewhat reassembled, I was involved in most of those transactions as well as many for major broadcasting firms and networks. In the pro bono area, I was asked by the FCC in the late ’80s to head an effort to develop a new television transmission standard for the country, basically digital high-definition television. I worked for nine years on that project and had the opportunity to work with over 1,000 volunteers, including the cream of the nation’s video engineers. For this effort, I received an Emmy and a lot of personal satisfaction.
Editor: Bert, what legal issues and trends do you see taking center stage in the near future for your clients?
Rein: Both the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicare/Medicaid, signifying the encroachment of government into healthcare – both as a regulator and as the largest customer of those providing healthcare – will present challenges not only to the healthcare industry but also to employers, who worry about their employees’ benefits. There is going to be more pressure on the structure of financial institutions. Apart from that, the government waxes and wanes with more or less antitrust enforcement and variable regulation. The government’s detailed entry into new business fields is going to be very significant.
Editor: You’ve argued two high-profile and possibly precedent-setting cases before the Supreme Court this term. Perhaps you could tell us about your experience before the Court.
Rein: The Court differs from other courts not in the kind but in the depth of the arguments. In these two cases there were hundreds of amicus briefs coming from different interests. The mastery of the subjects is more complicated because you never know in what the Court is going to be interested. In that way it is very demanding intellectually, requiring that you put before the court every aspect of the issue favoring your side. One of the cases was Fisher v. University of Texas, the so-called affirmative action case. It concerns the use of race preferences in admission to the University of Texas. The other case is the Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder. They’ve both been argued so we’re waiting for the results.
Editor: What do you see on the horizon for Wiley Rein?
Wiley: On the horizon is the continued growth of our existing practices and, in particular, some of our smaller specialty areas. In addition, we also have discussed other federal government-oriented practices that we may want to enter. Furthermore, through Bert’s leadership, we are focusing on a commercial litigation practice. Over half of our lawyers are involved in litigation in one specialty or another.
I have been the managing partner for most of three decades, and now serve as firm chair. We have a new managing partner, Peter Shields, who shares Bert’s and my vision for the firm. And we also are focused on transitions to new leadership in all our various practices. Our veterans are still here – Jim Wallace in the IP field, Rand Allen and Bill Roberts in government contracts, Mike Senkowski in telecommunications, etc. They are still very active and have no interest in retiring, but we also are developing young, dynamic practitioners, and we see a number of firm leaders emerging in the process. We have no mandatory retirement age, and we encourage our older, very capable lawyers to continue practicing. But, we want to make room for younger people as well.
Rein: We have an extensive committee structure in order to keep our people involved in aspects of management, affording them experience with issues that come up at a managerial level. We feel confident that they will be there when the time comes to take up the reins.