Abstract: Business, Government, and the Post-World War II Practice of Law in Washington, D.C: The Early History of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering

William H. Becker and William M. McClenahan, Jr.


Private Washington lawyers and law firms played an important role in helping business to cope with the increasingly complex federal regulatory, policy, and contracting environment in the thirty years following World War II. Our paper examines the institution of the Washington law firm during this period through a case study of the prominent firm, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (WCP), established in 1962, and its two predecessor firms, organized in 1946. We address the role of WCP in the network of private and public interests that constituted the political economy of the regulatory state that emerged out of the New Deal, World War II, and the Cold War, and that evolved further in response to the social and economic upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. WCP lawyers developed long-standing relationships with major business clients, providing them with a wide variety of services for changing legal needs as the state increased in scope. WCP attorneys detailed their clients' interests and problems to regulators and other government policy officials. In turn, they also explained the law, and the government's perspective, to their business clients, and often advised them on business strategies to cope with changes in regulation and public policy.