Star appellate attorneys quit Kirkland after Supreme Court gun victory

Duo to form boutique following Chicago giant’s decision to drop Second Amendment cases

Prominent Supreme Court appellate attorneys Paul Clement and Erin Murphy are set to leave Kirkland & Ellis to launch their own litigation firm following a decision by Kirkland to no longer represent clients in Second Amendment matters.  

News of the Washington DC-based pair’s departure came just hours after Clement secured a major victory before the Supreme Court yesterday (23 June) that saw it strike down New York state's limits on carrying concealed handguns in public in a 6-3 ruling.

Clement, a former solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, argued the case on behalf of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, an affiliate of his client the National Rifle Association. Murphy also worked on the case.

“Unfortunately, we were given a stark choice: either withdraw from ongoing representations or withdraw from the firm,” Clement said in a statement. “Anyone who knows us and our views regarding professional responsibility and client loyalty knows there was only one course open to us: We could not abandon ongoing representations just because a client’s position is unpopular in some circles.”

A source with knowledge of the matter told CNN that some partners at Kirkland had expressed their unease with continuing representations of Second Amendment-related cases following the recent school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, adding that it had become clear the difference in position was ‘irreparable’ and that Clement and Murphy would leave out of loyalty to their clients.

Jon Ballis, chairman of Kirkland’s executive committee, said in a statement: “Paul and Erin have been valued colleagues. We wish them the best of luck in the future and we look forward to collaborating with them in matters not involving the Second Amendment.”

This is the second time Clement has left a leading US law firm over his representation of conservative clients in controversial matters. 

He and King & Spalding (K&S) parted company in 2011 after the Atlanta-based firm decided to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of the Republican-majority House of Representatives. DOMA was a federal law that barred marriage-related benefits for same-sex couples and was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013 in a 5-4 ruling. 

K&S had faced heavy criticism from LGBTQ rights groups after its role in defending the DOMA became public. Chairman Robert Hays subsequently said the vetting process for taking on the case had been inadequate.

Clement, on the other hand, defended the principle that lawyers should represent unpopular clients.

Clement, one of only a few lawyers to have argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court, landed at Washington DC boutique Bancroft, which was founded by former Bush Justice Department official Viet Dinh. Clement moved over to Kirkland when the firm absorbed Bancroft in 2016.

Representation of controversial clients is becoming increasingly problematic for firms forced to give greater consideration to its reputational impact, not least due to pressure from their own lawyers, but also to accommodate clients keen to improve their ESG credentials.

Notably, international law firms pulled out of Moscow en masse in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine having also decided to cease representing Russian clients even if they weren't sanctioned.

Email your news and story ideas to: [email protected]