America’s Top Prosecutor Defied Trump and Got Fired. Now She Gets Paid

Sally Yates will command big money in the private sector. Her dramatic finale may mean she gets even more.

Trump Firing of Yates Intensifies Immigration Conflict

A few days before the end of her tenure, Sally Yates, the acting U.S. attorney general, was fired by President Donald Trump for refusing to defend the Republican’s executive order blocking refugees, deeming it unlawful.

In some industries, such a high profile swan song would turn anyone into a toxic commodity. But in the legal world, the actions of the seasoned federal prosecutor haven’t changed her job prospects very much. They remain very good, and in some quarters, maybe a bit better. 

Given her role at the top of the Justice Department, Yates, 56, would have had her pick of law firms, in house counsel, teaching, or non-profit jobs regardless. While some law firms may shy away from hiring her for fear of offending Trump, more are likely to be ambivalent about the dramatic finale, or view it as a badge of honor.

“She has an excellent reputation and I continue to believe that people will be very interested in her,” said Jeffrey A. Lowe, a partner in the Washington office of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “People recognize that these are somewhat unusual times. She has such a tremendous track record people will focus on that.” Lowe works with high profile clients (Yates would certainly qualify) who leave government jobs. Often those people tend to see their compensation skyrocket in the private sector, both because of their experience as litigators and their relationships.

Amy Savage, a recruiter at the Washington office of Lateral Link, an elite legal recruiting firm, agreed, adding that her decision to publicly reject Trump’s order, already the subject of more than a half dozen Constitutional challenges, won’t hurt or help her. “Do I think it would increase her value? I don’t think so,” she said, adding that her role as acting attorney general would “command a pretty hefty fee.”

Still, Yates’s recent politicization will, to some, make her a desirable hire. “If it’s a firm that has a political leaning, they might see it as a great thing,” Savage said. A non-profit might also try to snatch her up, hoping that her name recognition will help with donations, a savvy move in the Trump era, as people have taken to “rage donating” as a means of catharsis in a country where the majority of voters picked someone else. The American Civil Liberties Union over the weekend, for example, pulled in $24 million, almost seven times what it got in all of 2015. In the right time frame, Yates’s hire could have a similar effect.

Yates (who couldn’t be immediately reached for comment) was a holdover from the Obama administration, a career prosecutor watching the store after Loretta Lynch, the last attorney general under President Barack Obama, stepped down (New presidents almost always pick their own). Though Yates would have only been in her role a short while longer, her firing nevertheless galvanized Trump repudiators across the country.

If Yates has any “halo effect,” it will last about a month or two, said Lowe. “People are pretty forgetful. They move on,” he said. “I think you do want to seize the opportunity when you can.”