Kiernan, who will continue to lead the practice, said in an interview, that his group will stay busy. He said overall litigation revenue at Debevoise will likely be higher in 2013 than 2012.
White's reputation is built from years in private practice and as U.S. attorney for the Southern District from 1993 to 2002, the only woman to hold the position.
At Debevoise, she took part in an internal corruption investigation at Siemens AG, represented health care provider HCA, and international companies in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, among other work.
In a statement, Michael Blair, presiding partner at Debevoise, said the firm is "very proud that our partner and colleague Mary Jo White has once again been called to return to public service in a vitally important role."
"All of us who know and work with Mary Jo know that her extraordinary intellect, energy and experience, combined with her bedrock integrity, will serve our country exceptionally well as she takes on the important responsibility of chairing the Securities and Exchange Commission," Blair said.
In a statement provided by the firm, White said it was an honor to be nominated but "it is not without mixed emotion, however, and if confirmed I will certainly miss working alongside my very talented colleagues at Debevoise for whom I have deep respect.
"Debevoise has built an unparalleled practice and assembled an extraordinarily gifted team, and I know that they will continue to provide our clients with the highest level of service they have come to expect from the firm," White's statement said.
View From Both Sides
Elkan Abramowitz of Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer said White is one of the smartest and most effective lawyers he has ever encountered. Most recently, SEC chairs generally come from an industry or academic side, but she has knowledge of the industry and enforcement, he said.
"It's a perfect choice," he said. "It brings depth to the position that hasn't been there in a long time. …In a supervisory role, it's extremely important to have had both sides of the representation. You understand when there's a good argument being made to you, and you understand when there's a silly argument being made."
Hynes, of Allen & Overy, added that White's "background of being both the prosecutor and on the defense side is one of the biggest qualifications she has. She knows the practical realities of both sides." She said her balanced background "will achieve a balanced result."
Former Southern District Judge Barbara Jones, now a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder and a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District, said White was "a brilliant lawyer" and a "problem solver."