President Barack Obama yesterday nominated Mary Jo White, a former Southern District U.S. Attorney and now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton as the next chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
White, 65, a white-collar defense lawyer, has been at Debevoise since 2002. Her nomination to lead the Securities & Exchange Commission brought high praise from practitioners who said she would bring a balanced and fair approach to the job based on her prosecutorial and defense experience, a background that brought incredible visibility to Debevoise & Plimpton's litigation department.
Mary Jo White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton and a former U.S. attorney, speaks at the White House yesterday after President Barack Obama announced he had chosen her as the next chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"She brought to Debevoise a tremendous ability to attract very high quality business and did attract very high quality business," said Patricia Hynes, senior counsel at Allen & Overy who focuses on complex securities, commercial and criminal matters. "People generate business in large part based on reputation and she had a great reputation, and clients came to her."
White has been chair of the firm's litigation department, helping bring in many clients including Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and JPMorgan Chase.
She was such a draw to clients that the firm had to hire a legal assistant whose job it was to respond to all the people who wanted to hire her, said litigation cochair John Kiernan. "I would say she's been one of the top 10 most in demand lawyers in America," he said.
She also attracted talent. Among those she bought to the firm were litigators Paul Berger, Helen Cantwell, Matthew Fishbein, Andrew Ceresney, James Johnson and former federal judge and U.S. Attorney Michael Mukasey.
Some attorneys questioned how Debevoise could fill her role.
"It's a huge challenge for them," said one securities partner at a New York firm who declined to be identified. "She ran it. She was the most visible person in the firm in the litigation space. She has credibility that few others can hope to achieve. Anytime you have a person like that who is a real leader and who is the face of the entire practice, when you lose someone like that, it's a challenge to fill the position."
But Hynes and other defense lawyers said that Debevoise's litigation department is full of talent.