Q&A: Mayer Brown's new D.C. leader on future goals, market trends

5 minute read

Signage is seen outside of the law firm Mayer Brown LLP in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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(Reuters) - Elizabeth Espin Stern, head of Mayer Brown's mobility and migration practice, took the helm this week as managing partner of the firm’s 200-lawyer-plus Washington, D.C., office.

Stern succeeds Raj De, who had held the post since 2019 and was recently appointed to serve on the Chicago-founded firm's eight-person global management committee. De also continues to lead Mayer Brown's global cybersecurity and data privacy practice and its national security practice.

Stern brought her four-lawyer global mobility and immigration team from Baker McKenzie to Mayer Brown in 2014. Since then, she's taken on a number of leadership roles, including as a member of the firm's global partnership board and a co-leader of the firm's COVID-19 global response team.

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The D.C. native spoke with Reuters about her visions for the Washington office, how it has evolved over the years – including in the pandemic – and some of the trends that are shaping the region's legal market.

The conversation below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

REUTERS: What are some of your goals for the D.C. office?

ESPIN STERN: We are in a workplace of the future. It is new, it is different, and we are connecting virtually and in person across all kinds of borders, including the borders of the screen. And in that environment, helping to ensure that those connections, working groups and innovation laboratories of people work effectively is critical. That’s a top priority for me.

Similarly, outreach to our great community. In the D.C. region, industry, politics, academia, healthcare converge. We want to be in dialogue with the titans of industry and of law and regulation.

Finally, I would really like to see us capitalize on the robust and vibrant commitment of Mayer Brown to all of these goals by attracting additional lateral talent. We are excited about the success of our firm, and how much we have helped our platinum, silver and gold clients that we have and we want to continue to grow, to continue to provide that absolutely seamless service.

REUTERS: What kind of lateral additions are you looking to make?

ESPIN STERN: We are looking for lateral partners that are familiar with the nuances of regulation across major areas, including litigation – in particular appellate litigation, which is a hallmark of the office – but also including a cross section of regulatory areas that will be the subject of significant action by the Biden Administration. That includes antitrust, trade, my own area of immigration, securities and exchange regulations, and related broker-dealer and financial regulatory issues and other tax and financial regulations generally.

REUTERS: How long has the firm been in D.C. and how has its practice there changed over the years?

ESPIN STERN: We were due to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year. But due to the pandemic, we will celebrate our 50-plus anniversary when we have the grand opening of our new (renovated) space.

Fifty years ago, there wasn't a cyber security practice in the office. Fifty years ago, there wasn't my practice, global mobility and migration. So there are new practices that have joined as the world has changed. We have a very significant technology transactions practice out of this office. But the constant in the office is that we always have a mix of very seasoned commercial practitioners who understand how the industry works, and then also experts who are high level, former government officials who are able to lead with that commercial knowledge by mixing in predictive and reliable indicators as to where regulation and law is going to impact business.

REUTERS: What are some of the trends you as a practice and office leader are particularly looking out for?

ESPIN STERN: We've had major companies move into this area and continue to move in. It actually reminds me of when technology started to move into this area in the 1990s – it's happening again, but it's all different businesses, whether it's Nestle moving its headquarters here, or Amazon planning to build out in this region. D.C. is no longer just about government business, it is about versatility of businesses, it is an industrial center, so we'll be watching that.

The second trend that we're watching very closely is how the Biden Administration will fill the void created by the changes in policies that were undertaken by the prior administration. By making those changes, a vacuum of regulation has resulted and needs to be filled. And so what that regulation will be, what the nature of it will be, helping our clients get prepared for it in advance of that regulation taking effect, is something that Mayer Brown's Washington office, and frankly, our firm excels at. And it's mission critical to our clients.

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Xiumei Dong covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firm strategy and growth, in-house counsel and the Washington, D.C., legal market. Reach her at Xiumei.Dong@thomsonreuters.com.