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MoloLamken LLP

The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Walter Hawes’s practice focuses on white collar criminal defense, complex commercial disputes, and appeals.  He litigates in a variety of federal and state forums, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Hawes also represents clients in criminal, civil, and congressional investigations. 

Mr. Hawes regularly advocates for clients in court and before high-ranking government decision makers, including the U.S. Solicitor General’s office and other components of DOJ leadership. His experience covers a broad range of subject matter, including administrative and constitutional law, criminal law, antitrust, and intellectual property.

Prior to joining MoloLamken, Mr. Hawes served as a law clerk to the Honorable Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and then-Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Mr. Hawes previously worked as a litigation associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in New York City.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

MoloLamken focuses exclusively on high-stakes litigation. The firm’s practice is nationwide and often involves cross-border issues. We concentrate on complex commercial litigation, white collar work, and intellectual property matters at every level of the judicial system, from trial courts to the Supreme Court of the United States. The firm does not have strictly defined practice groups.  Lawyers across the firm routinely work on civil and criminal matters, appellate and trial-level cases, and on both sides of the “v,” representing plaintiffs and defendants. The firm strongly believes that high-stakes advocacy has more to gain than to lose from expertise across a wide array of substantive practice areas. We say we’re advocates first and subject matter specialists second.

What types of clients do you represent?

MoloLamken’s clients span the globe and reflect the firm’s breadth of practice. We are relatively conflict free compared to large law firms, enabling us to pursue a variety of opportunities. We represent Fortune 500 companies, hedge funds, and private equity firms as both plaintiffs and defendants. We represent foreign sovereigns, patent holders, entrepreneurial startups, and household Wall Street firms. Through the firm’s white collar practice, we also represent a variety of prominent individuals, including legislators, high-ranking federal and state officials, and an array of CEOs and C-suite executives in congressional, criminal, and civil matters. On any given day, MoloLamken attorneys might try a nationwide class action, defend an internationally renowned executive in a criminal prosecution, and argue the merits of an inventor’s intellectual property rights in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

My personal practice reflects the firm’s varied workload. At the appellate level, I’ve argued issues before the U.S. Solicitor’s General’s office, briefed merits cases before the United States Supreme Court, and worked on a variety of federal appeals concerning patent law, criminal law, civil procedure, and antitrust. In one case, we successfully defended on appeal the outright dismissal of a complaint. In another, we secured a reversal on mandamus of an unfavorable district court ruling. I am also part of teams representing numerous executives and high-profile individuals in criminal and civil investigations brought by the DOJ, SEC, CFTC, and other federal and state regulators. In one such matter, we enabled several clients to avoid prosecution altogether despite significant focus on them in one of the most high-profile criminal investigations of the past year. In another, we successfully obtained a non-prosecution agreement from the Department of Justice on behalf of a banking executive.

How did you choose this practice area?

MoloLamken was an obvious choice. Coming out of my second clerkship, I wanted my practice to embrace some of the things I loved about clerking. I valued the comradery of chambers, the varied substantive docket, and the no-holds-barred intensity that were features of my clerkships. I wanted a serious workplace with well-adjusted people where I could grow through hands-on experience. And if that wasn’t specific enough, I wanted to work across substantive practice areas. MoloLamken was the only place in the country that fit the bill. Nowhere else allowed associates to work on Supreme Court merits cases and white collar criminal matters simultaneously, much less actively encouraged that broad practice as a means of associate development.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Each day brings its own surprises. Because we work on a wide variety of matters at all stages of litigation—from investigating a complaint to final appeal—attorneys have to employ different skills on an hour-to-hour basis. On any given day, I might prepare a client pitch, interview a witness in an investigation, present to the DOJ, or draft an appellate brief. The firm works in small teams and is highly collaborative across all three offices. While we avoid the large, weekly update meetings that weigh down larger case teams, we communicate often. I am virtually always calling colleagues across the firm’s three offices to leverage their expertise and experience. Very little work is ever unnecessarily duplicated as a result, and no experience goes unutilized. That dynamic makes the firm feel interconnected, even though we often work in teams of twos and threes.  

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Develop oral and written advocacy skills. Those skills are the currency of litigation, and they are not simply taught. You must find ways to practice them. I would encourage law students to participate in clinics, trial advocacy programs, moot court teams, writing competitions, and any other experiential learning opportunities they can find. Junior associates should explore bar association programs, inns of court, and other formal and informal professional groups that will provide similar opportunities to further develop their skills. Attorneys at large firms looking to move to a litigation boutique should also seek out matters where they will have an opportunity to take ownership of a whole case or a substantial piece of one. Learning how to simultaneously manage strategic issues, make judgment calls, and execute on specific legal tasks will help emulate the responsibilities those associates will have at a boutique like MoloLamken.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

The most challenging aspects of practicing at MoloLamken are also the parts I enjoy the most. No two cases are alike, which requires associates to constantly employ a wide range of skills. Attorneys must frequently shift between managing complicated discovery disputes, engaging with clients, drafting briefs, and fielding calls from opposing counsel or the government. The firm’s small teams also require associates to think big and small simultaneously. Even at a junior level, associates are required to make judgment calls and develop case strategy. That high-level thinking requires an appreciation for a variety of legal and practical interests. But attorneys are also required to be detailed oriented in executing specific assignments and understanding the factual and legal issues unique to each case. Luckily, the demands of the firm’s challenging practice are tempered by working with thoughtful mentors who are more than willing to invest time and resources in associates.   

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Unlike many law firms, MoloLamken hires associates with the expectation that they will become partners. It makes investments in its attorneys, both personal and professional, with that goal in mind. And it lives up to the promise. While not every associate makes partner, the firm regularly promotes from within. The business model is centered around developing talented attorneys and having them continue to build on the firm’s success as partners. That commitment generates low attrition rates. But when attorneys do leave, it is usually to serve in high-profile government positions or pursue unique opportunities such as working in-house at cutting-edge startups. One example is that an attorney recently left to become the Solicitor General of Indiana. While we would have loved for him to stay, it is hard to begrudge anyone that opportunity. 

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

MoloLamken’s commitment to attorney development is unique. The firm adheres to the edict that lawyers learn by doing. And it provides an excellent education. From day one, associates can expect to be handed substantive, on-your-feet opportunities. In my first month, on two separate matters, I had significant speaking roles in advocacy presentations to the U.S. Solicitor General’s office and leaders in the DOJ’s Criminal Division. That early experience set the tone for the rest of my time at the firm, where I’ve regularly had a significant role in court hearings, advocacy presentations, and depositions. Few places make such an effort to put associates and junior lawyers in the spotlight, as opposed to the back drafting room. That approach is also cyclical. Because junior partners at MoloLamken have generally benefitted from that same development, they often have far more first-chair experiences than counterparts at other firms. As a result, they are eager to provide high-quality substantive opportunities to associates.   

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

There are too many differences to count. Unlike large law firms, where practice groups often depend on large institutional clients or are limited to certain types of matters, MoloLamken has the flexibility to pursue a wider variety of complex disputes. The firm is largely conflict free, enabling it to pursue quality contingency work, represent high-profile individuals, and engage in other work that is usually off-limits to larger firms. The firm also avoids the hyper-specialization that usually comes with the size of today’s largest law firms. The greatest differences, however, are felt on an interpersonal level. Rather than having numerous tiers of attorneys and a corporate bureaucracy, MoloLamken employs a lean and flat structure, where the founding partners are personally invested in the firm’s cases, its management, and associate development. That structure puts more organizational responsibilities on the senior members of the firm. But it results in a collegial, tight-knit environment, where even the most junior attorney regularly interacts with the most senior partners—often working together on case teams without any intermediaries. Those close ties build trust and genuine friendships across the firm, which are critical to our success both inside and outside the courtroom.