Washington Fellow Brent Gurney embraces the challenge of police reform in Baltimore and Chicago


WilmerHale partner Brent Gurney didn’t necessarily expect to wind up quarterbacking some of the highest-profile policing matters in the nation. But—as one of the partners leading WilmerHale’s representation of Baltimore and Chicago in the Department of Justice’s investigations into policing practices in the two cities—he knows he’s right where he should be.

Gurney joined WilmerHale in 1999, after more than eight years as Assistant US Attorney in the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, where he was appointed Deputy Chief for the Southern Division. He has since built a litigation practice handling complex civil and criminal cases throughout the United States, as well as sensitive internal investigations into financial and other matters for clients in the US, Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and the Middle East.

“What attracted me to the law is the diversity of experiences it offers,” says Gurney, who has represented parties in jury trials involving varied subject matter, including federal conspiracy, securities and obstruction charges, allegations of fraudulent off-label marketing, and intellectual property rights, among other subjects. “WilmerHale offers a veritable buffet of interesting challenges and opportunities, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to do some really big trials and fascinating investigations overseas.”

In 2008, when the governor of Puerto Rico turned to WilmerHale for help navigating a DOJ investigation into patterns of civil rights abuses by Puerto Rico’s 17,000-officer police force, Gurney joined with WilmerHale partner and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick to spearhead the representation.

Gurney and Gorelick—along with fellow WilmerHale partner and civil rights lawyer Debo Adegbile—were tapped again in 2015, when the City of Baltimore faced its own investigation following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody. Chicago was the next city to follow suit, turning to WilmerHale for assistance in its response to the DOJ “pattern or practice” investigation launched in the wake of the shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

“In these matters,” says Gurney, “we act as honest brokers for the cities and police departments. Our goal is to help them get to a better place by adopting national best practices, improving their own policies and procedures, and making affirmative changes even before a DOJ investigation has concluded.” Police reform, says Gurney, is one of the rare issues in the law where the interests of all parties are aligned. “Having a better police department is the end goal for all concerned—for the city, the police department and the citizens.”

Asked whether his policing work feels qualitatively different from his other matters, Gurney responds with a definitive “no.” “Actually, I feel right at home—like my whole career has been a preparation for this work. I find myself at a place where all my different skills and experiences have come together, because what these policing matters call for is not just a legal advisor, but a strategic advisor who is, in essence, a problem solver.”

“I’ve always lived the disputes of my clients,” Gurney says. “I find each one interesting and exciting—even conflicts that might seem to others to involve the driest subject matter.” With his current matters in Baltimore and Chicago, however, he is often reminded of the wider importance of the work and its implications for critical issues of justice, democracy and public safety.

Although passionate about the law, Gurney says he was not a “hardcore pre-law type” in college. “In fact,” he notes, “I was attracted to many different options.” He took the Navy pilot aptitude test, and—with thoughts of perhaps going to business school or to graduate school for economics—took the GMAT and the GRE, as well as the LSAT. After being accepted to Harvard Law School, Gurney deferred for a year to travel throughout Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa.

Gurney’s work has been featured in The American Lawyer, the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He was selected by Washingtonian magazine as one of the 2015 Top Attorneys in DC for Criminal Defense/White Collar, and appeared in Best Lawyers in America in the specialty of Commercial Litigation and White-Collar Criminal Defense, as well as in the 2015 edition of Washington DC Super Lawyers for his white collar defense practice. He was also named a “Life Sciences Star” in the 2012–2015 editions of LMG Life Sciences for Government Enforcement/Investigation.

To learn more about Gurney: https://www.wilmerhale.com/brent_gurney/

About Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP: WilmerHale provides legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of its clients. The law firm’s leading Intellectual Property, Litigation/Controversy, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Securities, and Transactional Departments participate in some of the highest-profile legal and policy matters. With a staunch commitment to public service, the firm is renowned as a leader in pro bono representation. WilmerHale is 1,000 lawyers strong with 14 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia.