725 Twelfth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005-5901
Telephone: (202) 434-5000
Fax: (202) 434-5029
Founded: 1951 as the Law Office of Edward Bennett Williams
Gross Billings: $126 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 541110 Offices of Lawyers
1949: Williams leaves Hogan & Hartson to form a practice with Nicholas Chase.
1951: The practice becomes known as the law offices of Edward Bennett Williams after a split with Nicholas Chase.
1954: Williams serves Senator Joseph McCarthy, one of many clients involved in the Red Scare.
1957: Williams represents Jimmy Hoffa and later becomes the Teamsters Union's general counsel (a position he held until 1973).
1962: The firm is renamed Williams & Stein.
1967: Williams suffers a major defeat as a criminal defense lawyer: client Bobby Baker is convicted.
1968: The firm's new name is Williams & Connolly.
1971: Joseph Califano joins the firm, which leads to its Watergate involvement.
1975: Williams defends John Connolly in a federal trial.
1987: The firm represents Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal.
1988: Ed Williams's death results in new firm leadership.
Late 1990s:The firm represents President Clinton.
Williams & Connolly LLP is one of the United States' largest law firms. Although it describes itself in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory as having a "Practice in Federal Courts and before Federal Departments and Agencies," it does other work in a variety of legal specialties. The firm is well known for criminal defense, the expertise of firm founder Edward Bennett Williams. It is particularly famous for its long record of representing prominent individuals in politics, sports, business, and entertainment, but it also serves corporations, nonprofit organizations, and other law firms.
The Founder and His Early Law Practice
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1920, Edward Bennett Williams graduated from Holy Cross College in 1941. After graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1944, Williams worked in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hogan & Hartson. In 1949 he left Hogan & Hartson to become the junior name partner of Chase & Williams. After two years, Williams started his own law firm in the nation's capital.
In the 1950s Williams represented several individuals involved in the post-World War II Red Scare. His success as a young lawyer serving entertainment figures such as Martin Berkeley and Sidney Buchman helped build his reputation as an outstanding defense lawyer. His most famous client during this anticommunist hysteria was U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Republican from Wisconsin elected in 1950.
Williams in 1956 began representing four leaders of the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis who were later found guilty of violating the Taft-Hartley Labor Act. Later Williams defended Teamsters President Dave Beck at hearings of the Senate Rackets Committee. Beck later was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion.
In 1957 Williams defended Jimmy Hoffa, who also was investigated by the Rackets Committee. Senator John F. Kennedy was a member of the committee and his brother Robert F. Kennedy was its chief counsel. Then Williams defended Hoffa against bribery charges in a trial. Hoffa was acquitted in July 1957 and soon became head of the Teamsters Union. Williams's biographer Robert Pack concluded, "Edward Bennett Williams won the battle on behalf of Jimmy Hoffa, but in the process the country lost the war. Thanks to the triumph of injustice, Hoffa graduated from being a totally corrupt individual on a relatively minor scale, becoming one of the country's most powerful figures and a blight on the national landscape."
By November 1957 Williams had become general counsel for the Teamsters Union, which paid him a $50,000 annual retainer. From that point on, his support for Hoffa declined, partially out of conflict of interest from representing both the union and its leader. In 1967 Hoffa was sent to prison for misusing Teamsters money and jury-tampering. Williams, who refused to help Hoffa in that case, said the Teamsters leader probably was murdered later by Teamsters with mob connections.
The Growing Williams Law Firm (1960-88)
In 1960 the Williams firm was still relatively small, with only about 12 lawyers, but its reputation was growing. Ed Williams was well known for his criminal defense work and also played a major role in racially integrating the legal profession in Washington, D.C. In the late 1950s he had become a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and chairman of the District of Columbia Bar Association Committee on Civil Rights.
Beginning in 1956, Ed Williams represented Frank Costello, the alleged role model for the main character in The Godfather book and movie. Costello's problems over tax evasion and denaturalization cases ended in 1964 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could not deport him back to Italy.
Several years later attorney Sol M. Linowitz commented, "Good lawyers don't have to take bad clients. Edward Bennett Williams, the brilliant trial lawyer, once sought to explain his representation of people like Frank Costello by saying, 'Everyone is entitled to a lawyer.' 'Yes,' was the response, 'but they are not entitled to you.'"
In late 1963 Robert G. ("Bobby") Baker chose Ed Williams to defend him against several charges of political corruption. Baker resigned as secretary of the Senate Democrats in October 1963 over the corruption charges that implicated Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic Senate leader who became president in November 1963 following the assassination of President Kennedy. A grand jury in 1966 indicted Bobby Baker for tax evasion, fraud, and related charges. In January 1967 a jury convicted Baker of seven of nine charges, for which he eventually served 16 months in prison, while President Johnson avoided any legal charges. Baker was "Williams's only client in a major trial to serve time in prison," wrote Robert Pack in his biography of Williams.
The firm changed its name a few times in the 1960s. It became known in 1962 as Williams & Stein with name partner Colman Stein, then in 1963 changed to Williams, Wadden & Stein after the addition of Tom Wadden as a name partner. After Stein resigned in 1966, it was Williams & Wadden.
In 1968 the partnership changed to Williams & Connolly with the departure of Wadden and the addition of Paul Connolly, one of Williams's former students at the Georgetown Law School who worked at Hogan & Hartson 20 years before joining his former professor. Connolly helped the firm for the first time make both criminal and civil law practice of equal importance.
In 1971 Joseph Califano, attorney for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), joined the Williams law firm, which gained the DNC as a new client. The law firm with the new name of Williams, Connolly & Califano had about 24 lawyers in 1971.
The following year the firm filed a civil lawsuit against the Republicans who had broken into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Both Ed Williams and Joseph Califano admitted years later that the lawsuit had been filed in part to hurt President Nixon's bid for reelection. Williams interviewed several Watergate players, including G. Gordon Liddy and John Mitchell, but the trial was postponed until after the November 1972 election.
President Nixon considered Ed Williams and the Washington Post, a client of the Williams firm since the early 1970s, his main enemies in the Watergate scandal, which lasted until 1974 when Nixon finally resigned before being impeached. Some speculated that Williams was Deep Throat, the informant who aided the Post in its investigation, but Williams's biographer Robert Pack discounted that possibility. A Nixon supporter actually asked Williams to defend the President, but Williams turned down the offer because of conflict of interest. Williams also stated publicly that Nixon should have destroyed the White House tape recordings before they were ordered as evidence in the case. That advice was criticized by several people, including Ralph Nader, who thought Williams would have advised what amounted to a major cover-up.
In 1974 John Connolly, former Texas governor and President Nixon's secretary of the Treasury Department, hired Ed Williams to defend him against corruption charges. Connally was accused of receiving illegal money from the dairy industry in return for influencing the Nixon Administration to raise milk price supports in 1971. A jury in 1975 acquitted Connally in the only courtroom loss of the Watergate Special Prosecutor's Office.
Williams, Connolly & Califano appeared quite prosperous in the 1970s. For example, Joseph Califano stated publicly that his 1976 income at the law firm was $505,490, a very high income for that time. All new cabinet members, including Califano as secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, had been directed by newly elected President Jimmy Carter to reveal their income.
From 1977 to 1987 tax lawyer Robert Arnold Schulman was one of the prominent partners at Williams & Connolly. He represented many professional sports teams and their leaders, including the Washington Redskins, former Redskins President Edward Bennett Williams, and the owners of the Redskins, the New York Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals, the New England Patriots, the Oakland Raiders, and the San Diego Chargers. Schulman's clients also included the major television networks and several well-known individuals, including Merv Griffin, Howard Cosell, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and Leslie Stahl.
A sensational case for Williams & Connolly came in 1981 when it successfully defended John W. Hinckley, Jr., after he tried to kill President Ronald Reagan. Partner Vincent J. Fuller persuaded the jury that Hinckley was insane. By the early 1980s the firm's growing list of business clients included Boeing Aircraft, the Motion Picture Association of America, and International Harvester.
In 1983 Robert Pack in his biography of Ed Williams made a good point "that someone who knew little or nothing about what had happened in America during the last thirty years could learn about the major developments of this era simply by studying the cases and causes that Williams has been associated with." In addition to the clients already mentioned, he or other members of his law firm represented leaders of the United Mine Workers; Frank Sinatra; Angie Dickinson; Joe DiMaggio; Hugh Hefner; Gerald Ford; Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary; cartoonist Al Capp; George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees; mobsters Vito Genovese and Sam Giancana; Occidental Petroleum owner Dr. Armand Hammer; Burt Lancaster; former U.S. Senator Thomas Dodd; William F. Buckley, Jr.; the National Enquirer; and former CIA director Richard Helms. No wonder Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes" called Ed Williams one of the ten most interesting Americans. Pack interviewed Williams and more than 100 others in his well-documented study of a man who was important in law, sports, politics, and journalism. The author reported that the law firm had about 80 lawyers when the book was published.
Attorneys from the Williams law firm in 1987 represented Oliver North in his much publicized testimony before the congressional committee examining the Iran-Contra scandal and again later served North when he was tried by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. North was so pleased that he still used Williams & Connolly in the late 1990s.
The Partnership After Williams's Death in 1988
In August 1988 Ed Williams died after an 11-year fight against cancer. Marc Fisher in the Los Angeles Times described Williams as "the locomotive of the law who charmed thousands of jurors, set the pace for a generation of trial lawyers and, from a private position, became a powerhouse in the public arenas of politics and sports." Former partner Joseph Califano added that Williams "had absolute influence touching all facets of Washington without holding any position."
Williams's law firm continued under a five-man committee of partners groomed by Williams. They all emphasized the smooth transition planned by Williams. Part of that involved keeping long-term clients with the firm. For example, oilman Marvin Davis said he would continue to use Williams & Connolly, since he was pleased with its help when he sold the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Company in the early 1980s to Rupert Murdoch. The Washington Post's publisher Donald Graham also remained committed to the law firm. Ed Williams had represented the newspaper since 1971. Other corporate or institutional clients at the time of Williams's death included the National Enquirer, Georgetown University, and Anheuser-Busch Companies.
Such clients were important, but at the time of Williams's death the firm's litigation practice still accounted for about 70 percent of its revenue. Some of the firm's leaders wanted to continue emphasizing litigation, but others thought more corporate work such as mergers and acquisitions was a better option.
Big law firms that focused on corporate clients rapidly increased in size and revenues during the 1980s when corporate mergers and acquisitions abounded. Several such firms declined, however, when the economy finally slowed. The National Law Journal reported that 44 percent of the United States' largest law firms in 1990 reported having fewer lawyers, an unprecedented decline during the publication's 14-year history.
On the other hand, Washington, D.C. firms like Williams & Connolly generally avoided the decline. "If you look at Washington firms, they had very consistent measured growth over the '80s ... Now we're not experiencing the downturn," said Paul Wolff of Williams & Connolly in the Washington Post on September 24, 1991. The firm in 1990 expanded to have 129 lawyers, which for the first time earned it a ranking as number 250 on the National Law Journal's annual survey.
In 1992 Williams & Connolly defended boxer Mike Tyson, but an Indiana judge rejected defense pleas for understanding and leniency. Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for raping an 18-year-old woman.
In 1995 a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a lower court ruling in Shepherd v. ABC. The broadcasting company, assisted by Williams & Connolly and other law firms, finally got what it wanted after ten years in this racial discrimination case. In a chapter called "The Obstructionists" in his book No Contest, Ralph Nader cited this case as an example of large corporations that use big law firms to wear down their accusers, who simply lacked comparable legal firepower.
In the late 1990s President Clinton used lawyers from many firms, including Williams & Connolly, in his numerous legal challenges. When he had to face questions about Monica Lewinsky from independent counsel Kenneth Starr, the president received advice from Williams & Connolly partner David E. Kendall and associate Nicole K. Seligman.
The National Law Journal on November 16, 1998, ranked Williams & Connolly as number 207 in its annual list of the nation's largest law firms. That was based on the firm's 172 lawyers. The firm in 1997 ranked as number 198 with 166 lawyers.
Williams & Connolly in the 1990s advised Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who eventually was forced by U.S. courts to return from Florida to Cuba to be with his father. Other clients in the late 1990s or the new millennium included Archer Daniels Midland, Lockheed Martin, Chairman Haley Barbour of the Republican National Committee, and MicroStrategy Inc. in a legal battle with its shareholders. George W. Bush used Williams & Connolly and several other law firms in the contested 2000 election in Florida. The Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins selected Williams & Connolly to help it deal with the controversy over its representation of collapsed Houston oil company Enron Corporation.
In January 2001 Calvin Klein agreed to a settlement with Warnaco Group, the designer jeans manufacturer, that ended litigation filed by both parties. Warnaco was represented by Williams & Connolly. Also in 2001, Pacifica radio hired Williams & Connolly to defend itself against three lawsuits filed by former employees and listeners. Pacifica owned Washington, D.C.'s WPFW and four other stations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Berkeley, California. A few months later state governments hired Williams & Connolly to help them in their antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft Corporation.
The American Lawyer ranked Williams & Connolly, with $126.0 million in gross revenue, as the nation's 117th largest law firm in 2000. Its revenue increased 7.2 percent from 1999. The firm reported no information on its pro bono activities. According to the American Lawyer, Williams & Connolly ranked number 70 based on its profits per partner of $645,000 in 2000. The National Law Journal ranked the firm as number 195 in 2001 based on its 199 lawyers, which was up from 187 lawyers the previous year.
In 2002 the law firm did not have any branch offices or a web site, both common practices at most of the nation's largest law firms. In any case, Williams & Connolly looked forward to continuing as one of the nation's top law firms.
Principal Competitors: Arnold & Porter; Hogan & Hartson; Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.
- Abramson, Jill, "Williams Took Steps to Ensure Law Firm He Set Up Would Thrive After His Death," Wall Street Journal, August 17, 1988, p. 1.
- Ahrens, Frank, "In Image Battle, Pacifica Takes Aggressive Action," Washington Post, August 21, 2001, p. C1.
- Broder, John M., "For Elian's Father, A Lawyer with Ties to Clinton," New York Times, April 4, 2000, p. A16.
- Cummings, Jeanne, et al., "Law Firm Reassured Enron on Accounting--Vinson & Elkins Discounted Warnings by Employee About Dubious Dealings," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2002, p. A18.
- Fisher, Marc, "Obituaries Edward B. Williams: Famous and Powerful Lawyer, Sports Figure," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 1988, p. 39.
- Goulden, Joseph C., The Million Dollar Lawyers, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977, p. 323.
- Hilzenrath, David S., and Cynthia L. Webb, "Settlement Cleared in Investor Lawsuit; MicroStrategy Deal May Affect Stock," Washington Post, April 3, 2001, p. E1.
- Jackson, Robert L., "The Iran-Contra Hearings Sullivan Known As 'Pure Attorney' Lawyer's Feisty Style Gets Leeway for Client," Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1987, p. 22.
- Kaufman, Leslie, "Calvin Klein Suit Against Warnaco Is Settled," New York Times, January 23, 2001, p. C1.
- Lawrence, B.H., "The Passing of Power at Williams & Connolly," Washington Post, September 19, 1988, p. f01.
- Lewis, Nancy, "Tax Lawyer Robert A. Schulman, 71, Dies," Washington Post, March 4, 1987, p. C05.
- Linowitz, Sol M., with Martin Mayer, The Betrayed Profession: Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, p. 31.
- Marcus, Ruth, "The Lawyer's Lawyer; Counsel Nicole Seligman, Williams & Connolly's Early Riser," Washington Post, August 17, 1998, p. B1.
- ------, "Price of Political Life Is Increasingly Tallied in Lawyers' Fees," Washington Post, August 11, 1997, p. A6.
- Muscatine, Alison, "Tyson Gets 6 Years in Prison for Rape; Boxer Immediately Taken into Custody As Appeal Is Readied," Washington Post, March 27, 1992, p. A01.
- Nader, Ralph, and Wesley J. Smith, Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America, New York: Random House, 1996, pp. 110-14, 134-36.
- Pack, Robert, Edward Bennett Williams for the Defense, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1983.
- Schmidt, Susan, and John Mintz, "Florida's Instant Invasion; How Gore and Bush Rushed in Legal and Political Armies," Washington Post, November 26, 2000, p. A1.
- Torry, Saundra, "Survey Finds U.S. Law Firms Shrinking; D.C. Bucks Trend," Washington Post, September 24, 1991, p. D01.
- Wilke, John R., "States in Microsoft Case Retain Leading Trial Lawyer Sullivan," Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2001, p. A4.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 47. St. James Press, 2002.