Obama’s Top Lawyer to Rejoin Kirkland & Ellis

Neil Eggleston, the White House Counsel under former President Barack Obama, is returning to Kirkland & Ellis, the firm is expected to announce on Monday.

Eggleston, 63, served as Obama’s top legal advisor between June 2014 and January 2017 and helped lead the vetting process that resulted in the ill-fated nomination of Merrick Garland to occupy a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eggleston confirmed the move on Friday, though he was unavailable for an interview Sunday.

The move back to Kirkland isn’t a huge surprise as he practiced there between 2012 and 2014 as a litigation partner in Washington, D.C. He also practiced at Debevoise & Plimpton as a partner between 2005 and 2012. Previously, he worked at the now-defunct Howrey law firm.

Obama tapped Eggleston to be his White House Counsel in 2014, after Eggleston’s predecessor Kathy Ruemmler made plans to return to private practice and landed herself position as partner at Latham & Watkins.

To the White House, Eggleston brought a wealth of experience from the government. In the 1990s, Eggleston defended executive branch secrecy in two independent counsel investigations including Kenneth Starr’s probe of Whitewater — an investigation into real estate investments of Bill and Hillary Clinton that evolved into a probe into whether Bill Clinton lied under oath about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

 

Neil Eggleston, (C), White House attorney, leaves the US District Courthouse 08 April in Washington, DC. Eggleston is in charge of securing executive privilege for US President Bill Clinton in the alleged affair involving the president and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. AFP PHOTO Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1998, Neil Eggleston, (C), then-White House attorney, leaves the US District Courthouse in Washington, DC. Eggleston was in charge of securing executive privilege for US President Bill Clinton in the alleged affair involving the president and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Interestingly, Starr, who was U.S. Solicitor General for George H.W. Bush and last year resigned from Baylor University after an investigation of mishandling sexual assault claims on campus, is a Kirkland alum himself.

During his time under Obama, Eggleston advised the president on all legal and constitutional issues across domestic and foreign policy matters.

The Marshall Project published a Q&A with Eggleston this February and covered his role as “The Man Who Ran Obama’s Clemency Machine,” helping to grant commutations for more than 1,700 federal prisoners.

In that particular matter, Eggleston described Obama as being fully involved in examining the applications for clemency.

Per the interview:

I would give him memos on the cases, and he would spend a long time on each one. For a significant number, he was fine with my recommendation. For others, he would say: “Why are you recommending this person to me? Look at his conduct in prison, look at his prior convictions. I’m uncomfortable that this guy is going to take advantage of a second chance.”

Or the alternative: There were times when the deputy attorney general may have recommended in favor of a commutation, and I recommended against it, and [Obama] would call me in and ask: “Why don’t you agree with this one?” Or he’d say: “Look there’s this prior conviction, I’m troubled by it, can you get me more information?”

He was really into the details.

(L-R) US President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston speak on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where nightly riots have occurred following the August 9, 2014 shooting of an unarmed African American teenager by police, prior to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, August 18, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

(L-R) Former President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston speak on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where nightly riots occurred following the August 9, 2014 shooting of an unarmed African American teenager by police. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB/ Getty Images)

 

Since leaving office, Eggleston has appeared on the faculty of Harvard Law School as a Lecturer on Law, teaching in the spring of 2017. His last day of class was Thursday.

It’s worth noting that Eggleston’s firm has changed since he last left it. In September 2016, Kirkland acquired the right-leaning Supreme Court advocacy boutique, Bancroft, along with its leaders: former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, and the former assistant attorney general of the United States, Viet D. Dinh. Those lawyers are known for representing clients that advocated for the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Here’s hoping they all get along under the same roof.

Write to Big Law Business at biglawbusiness@bna.com.

 

WASHINGTON, : Neil Eggleston (L), lawyer for Enron's Board of Directors talks with Dr. Herbert Winokur, Jr. (C) and John Duncan (R) both former members or current members of Enron's Board of Directors prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee 7 May 2002 on Capitol Hill. The committee questioned the panel on their role in Enron's collapse. AFP Photo/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

In May 2002, Neil Eggleston (L), then a lawyer for Enron’s Board of Directors, talks with Dr. Herbert Winokur, Jr. (C) and John Duncan (R) who were both former members or current members of Enron’s Board of Directors. The three appeared prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which questioned the panel on their role in Enron’s collapse. AFP Photo/Stephen JAFFE/ Getty Images

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