The first time Scott Coffina worked in the White House, he said he felt like "a kid in a candy store."
He had a low-ranking job in the Office of Political Affairs, at the end of President Ronald Reagan's second term. But with so many prominent people just down the corridor in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, it didn't matter that he had only minor responsibilities.
His next White House job promises to be very different.
Coffina, a partner in the old-line Philadelphia law firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, has been named associate counsel to the president and will begin work in the White House on Tuesday.
His new assignment will place Coffina, a white-collar defense lawyer with long experience in health care and employment law, at the center of White House efforts to respond to multiple investigations launched by congressional Democrats.
The investigations into the Bush administration's conduct of the war, its controversial decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys last year, and its electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects likely will play out against a backdrop of sharp political competition between the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress.
And that is fine with Coffina.
"That is part of Washington; it comes with the territory," Coffina said. "If I waited for a time when there was tranquillity and cooperation, I would never go back."
Coffina, 39, will commute from his home in Voorhees, staying in the Washington area during the week and returning to his family on weekends. His wife, Kim, also is a lawyer who practiced at Dechert Price before deciding to stay at home with the couple's child, now 16 months old.
Coffina said the job move meant a substantial salary cut, but he maintained that the experience of working in the White House on matters of huge national importance was ample compensation. He also granted that the White House experience likely would boost his career once he returned to private practice.
Coffina was initially approached by chief White House counsel Fred Fielding, who had served in that position once before under Reagan, and who also was a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Coffina graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1992, and shortly afterward went to work at Fielding's Washington law firm, where the two developed a lasting friendship. After Fielding's appointment earlier this year as White House counsel, he called Coffina to ask whether Coffina would consider coming to work for him.
Coincidentally, Coffina had just mailed a letter to Fielding congratulating him on his appointment, but it had not arrived when Fielding made the call.
"We were both thinking of each other at the same time," Coffina said.
At Montgomery McCracken, Coffina focused largely on white-collar defense work, a practice area that he said tracked well with the experience he gained as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia in the 1990s. He said the experience would be transferable to the White House, although the backdrop of politics and media scrutiny would add a dimension.
He said he planned to relish his White House assignment, for however long it lasts.
"When you are 21, you are like a kid in a candy store," he said of his first White House job. The difference now, he said, is "that I am here at a higher level doing more consequential things. I really appreciate the uniqueness of the opportunity now."
Reared: In Hazleton, Pa.
Undergraduate - Cornell University, 1989.
Law school - University of Pennsylvania, 1992.
White House political affairs office, 1988-89.
Washington and Philadelphia law firms, 1992-97.
U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, 1997-2001.
Montgomery McCracken law firm in Philadelphia, 2001-present.
Family: Wife, Kim, and 16-month-old son.
SOURCES: Scott Coffina and Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads.