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Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States. The city is not a part of any of the 50 states of the United States; rather, a special federal district directly under the administration of the central government. For many of your purposes in dealing with legal or local policy issues, D.C. operates similar to a state. Most attorneys working in Washington, D.C. are also licensed in another state. It’s important not to confuse Washington, D.C. with the state of Washington, which is found along the western Pacific coast of the United States. Instead, D.C. is located between the states of Virginia and Maryland, close to the middle of the eastern coast.
Washington, D.C. is the heart of the three branches of the U.S. government and many of its departments and agencies. It is home to:
- The U.S. President’s official residence, the White House;
- The Capitol Building, the main meeting location for the Senate and the House of Representatives, which make up the U.S. legislature; and
- The U.S. Supreme Court Building, where the highest federal court in the United States conducts hearings, deliberates and issues rulings on the most critical legal issues facing the nation.
Washington, D.C. formally has about a half-million residents, but the immediate surrounding metropolitan area is home to millions. About half of the residents of the city are African American, while a majority of the rest are white. The city is named for the first president of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, George Washington.
D.C. hosts many businesses and entities that are of interest to foreign businesspeople and advisors. First, several leading law firms like Covington & Burling LLP, Williams & Connolly LLP and Arnold & Porter LLP are headquartered there. In addition to the major U.S. law firms headquartered there, most large U.S. law firms have small offices in Washington, D.C. As in any major city, firms there practice in a wide variety of industries and areas, although many D.C. firms, or D.C. offices of national or international firms, specialize in antitrust litigation and regulatory compliance. Washington, D.C. is also home to many firms that specialize in lobbying (Patton Boggs LLP, Akin, Gump et al., Cassidy & Associates). Lobbyists interact with legislators, advocate for various constituencies and generally seek favorable legislation or other treatment. Lobbying is a large industry that overlaps extensively with the legal community. In addition, the D.C. metro area hosts major defense industry contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp., as well as national trade unions, industry trade groups and various professional associations. Washington, D.C. is also home to hundreds of countries’ embassies, as well as global entities like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
As in many major cities, the residents of D.C. are at the tops of their fields, highly educated and ambitious. When transacting business with attorneys and business leaders in D.C., especially with entities that have ties to government, one can expect for political considerations to play a role. Indeed, they can often trump practical considerations. When in D.C., a capable attorney will acknowledge political and business realities and find solutions that address all relevant concerns.