Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Covington & Burling is not just another law office

From “The Super-Lawyers: The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firm”
by Joseph C. Goulden; chapter 1: “Covington & Burling: Pinnacle of Power” pp 21-22

“… Covington and Burling is not just another law office. It is, in fact, Washington’s oldest, largest and probably best national law firm. At one time or another, it has performed legal services for most blue-chip corporations in America. Unlike many forms, Covington and Burling doesn’t list representative clients in Martindale and Hubbell, the quasi-official legal directory. But, estimates one partner, “We’ve done things for, I’d say, twenty percent of the companies on Fortune’s list of the five hundred top corporations.” GM, AT&T, DuPont, CBS, American Airlines- you get the idea. Because of he diversity of talent afforded by the sheer size, Covington and Burling is perhaps the only law firm in Washington that can assign a specialist to handle any problem a client has before the Federal government, from defending a criminal antitrust case to obtaining an arms export license or convincing the Food and Drug Administration of the safety of a patent medicine or fancy new combination drug. Covington and Burling lawyers possess that special confidence that comes from expertise and power, and think in commensurately grand terms.”

“John G. Laylin, a senior partner who specializes in international work matter-of-factly illustrated this point to me one morning during a casual conversation. First, Laylin showed me a glass bowel, half filled with rocks the size of golf balls and covered with water. “This is something I am spending half my time on, right now” Laylin said. “These nodules are rich in cobalt, nickel and copper. A client of mine found them in fifteen thousand feet of water, in the middle of the ocean. Now the law on mining of deep sea resources is very vague. These nodules are found in high concentrations in a certain area; in other areas, nearby, they are nonexistent. My client has spent millions of dollars locating them.”

Laylin handed me a photograph album with pictures of the nodules littering the ocean floor, taken with deep-sea exploration equipment. “What we want is exclusivity,” he said

For a law firm powerful enough to cajole the United States into drafting an international treaty, requesting legislation from Congress is a routine exercise, even if a time-consuming one. Under a bill drafted by Laylin in 1971, any person subject to a United States jurisdiction would be required to obtain a Federal license before doing any undersea mining work. Reciprocal protection would be given other nations passing similar legislation.” In other words, no claim-jumping. “No state can by itself establish a rule or principle of international law,” Laylin wrote in a draft paper on sea-bed law, “but any state can sow seeds which can grow into a ‘general practice accepted as law.’”

And this is what Laylin is doing- on behalf of a fee paying Covington and Burling client, but in an undertaking bearing the imprimatur of both the United States government (which is to say, all of us) and the American Bar Association. Such is the stuff of big time Washington Law.

C&B- Bottleneck or Facilitator?

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