Crowell & Moring has long been on a mission to bolster its presence in the New York market, but so far, it’s been a difficult road.

The Washington-based firm suffered two unsuccessful merger attempts in the last three years with midsize Manhattan firms. That was followed by a sudden leadership change and a subsequent string of prominent partner defections.

But Crowell, a government contracts and regulatory powerhouse, may have finally turned a corner in the Big Apple, thanks to a spate of high-profile group and lateral hires. A week ago, the firm announced that a nine-lawyer health care team from...