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December 19, 2022 Corner Office

In private practice, former Lamont admin. top lawyer Dannehy aims to grow independent, internal investigations group

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Nora Dannehy and Thomas Murphy are partners in the expanding Hartford law firm Cowdery, Murphy, Dannehy & Healy.
HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER From left to right, law partners Nora Dannehy, James Cowdery, James Healy and Thomas Murphy

Gov. Ned Lamont’s recently departed General Counsel Nora Dannehy is following in the long tradition of former U.S. attorneys and government officials going back to their roots working for a private law firm.

Around the New Year, she will start a new job as a named partner at Hartford-based Cowdery & Murphy, which will rebrand as Cowdery, Murphy, Dannehy & Healy.

Long-time partner Thomas Murphy said Dannehy — formerly the first woman U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut — was recruited to lead and grow the niche firm’s independent and internal investigations practice, which has handled about 20 cases in the last five years.

“Our work typically comes to us from referrals from other lawyers,” Murphy said. “People know we do good work and we are confident that she will complement that history.”

Murphy, also a former U.S. attorney, said the investigations practice’s clients run the gamut from schools and nonprofits to businesses and government entities.

“They are typically related to some employee conduct issue,” Murphy said. “Has someone done something or taken something they shouldn’t have? There are also sexual misconduct cases and we’ve done several related to clergy and teacher misconduct. We’ve also done investigations for major corporate clients. Unless she needs to recuse herself from a case, Nora will have a part in all aspects of the practice.”

The firm also handles white-collar criminal defense work, complex civil litigation and high-end personal injury matters, Murphy said.

Taking on corruption

Dannehy, 61 of Glastonbury, has an enviable resume. Prior to working as Lamont’s general counsel, she worked in the federal government and private sector.

During her two years as acting U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, Dannehy was appointed as a special prosecutor by then-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to supervise an investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys by the George W. Bush administration. Her nearly two decades in the U.S. Attorney’s office was focused on complex white-collar and public-corruption investigations.

She also led former Gov. John Rowland’s corruption investigation in 2004.

In the private sector, Dannehy worked six years as associate general counsel and chief compliance officer for the former United Technologies Corp., which has since merged with Raytheon Co.

Dannehy began her career as a law clerk to senior U.S. District Judge T. Emmet Claire, and then became an associate with law firm Day, Berry & Howard, now Day Pitney.

“I’ve always worked collaboratively, whether it was when I was a prosecutor or as chief compliance officer at UTC,” Dannehy said in a recent interview. “You have to be part of a team, and I like that. You discuss what’s unfolding with others and figure out the next step in a collaborative fashion.”

Dannehy said she joined Cowdery & Murphy because of her knowledge of the firm and personal relationships with its partners. Murphy and Dannehy have known each other for 31 years, they said.

“It was also just the right time,” she said.

Dannehy said she brings a new skill set to the table after having worked as the governor’s general counsel.

“I bring a knowledge of state government and an understanding of how the (state) agencies work and how the legislature works,” she said. “I also found that, in that position, there were a variety of issues that crossed the desk of the governor’s general counsel.”

Dannehy said she offered advice to Lamont on numerous hot-button issues including state gaming compacts, proposed electric company rate hikes and the pandemic.

“In my case, I was coming in mid-pandemic and we were trying to determine when and how to put to rest some of the executive orders,” Dannehy said.

Name recognition

Hartford-area law firms hiring well-known names in government, business and politics is nothing new.

Powerhouse firm Shipman & Goodwin snagged both former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. Jepsen left Shipman in August 2020 to form Jepsen Rowthorn.

Hartford-based Day Pitney, located down the block from Cowdery & Murphy, has two former Connecticut U.S. Attorneys — Christopher Droney and Stan Twardy Jr.

Law firms are attracted to former government officials because they “get someone who understands how high-profile disputes and problems are solved,” said Timothy Fisher, a law professor and former dean of the UConn School of Law.

“Anybody, like Nora, coming out of a senior position in government, brings just a wealth of relationships and a deep understanding about the institutions of law and government. That’s always useful to a law firm that handles matters of significant importance,” Fisher said.

Individuals coming out of high-profile public jobs also benefit, Fisher added.

“(Working for a law firm) provides some flexibility, ability to manage their time better and ability to choose the matter that you work on at a greater extent than in public service,” he said. “It’s also common that in the private sector, the salaries are higher than in the public sector.”

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