Opening Statements

That’s a Wrap

Posted Oct 1, 2008 3:35 PM CDT
By Arin Greenwood

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If you think the hottest ticket for lawyers inside the Beltway is the White House Corre­spond­ents’ Association dinner or the latest opening at the Cor­coran Gallery of Art, think again.

D.C. lawyers with U.S. Supreme Court practices are jockeying for invites as experts on wrap-up panels. And law firms, law schools and other professional groups are more than happy to indulge them.

Once the province of partisan think tanks, Supreme Court wrap-up panels are all the rage these days, with various entities around the country offering heady discussions on the high court’s term. While no one tracks the number of panels offered annually, observers say the number has increased exponentially, from perhaps five each year in Washington to dozens around the country.

“They’re copying us!” says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Found­ation, a D.C.-based think tank that has been putting on end-of-term roundups for nine years now.

Supreme Court decisions are becoming more relevant to greater numbers of people, Gaziano posits, and because of this, more are taking an interest in what the court is up to.

But the more likely explanation behind the rise of these wrap-up panels may have something to do with money.

Su­preme Court practice groups have become moneymakers for law firms vying to get business writing amicus briefs on behalf of the interests of corporate cli­ents. Wrap-up panels are a good way to stand out in a large crowd of appellate lawyers, says Evan Tager, co-head of the Su­preme Court and appellate practice group at Mayer Brown in D.C.

Mayer Brown now counts 55 lawyers in its Supreme Court practice group, and it is certainly not alone with such a large group. Serving as a panelist “gives a patina of expertise,” says Tager.

Participating in these panels also helps practitioners and firms build ties to organizations with interests shared by their clients. For example, Tager says he and a number of other lawyers from Mayer Brown’s Su­preme Court practice have appeared on the Washington Legal Founda­tion’s panels and roundups.

“They file amicus briefs in almost every case of interest to the business community,” Tager says. “We work cooperatively with them.”

While it’s hard to pin a number on the monetary value of participating in panels and round­ups, Tager says it does not hurt business. “Appearing doesn’t directly bring in work, but it helps build your profile, gets your name out there, builds credibility. Our firm name is very well-recognized, but we like to keep it fresh.”

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