Ralph Baxter, Jr. has confirmed that he is considering a run for the West Virginia U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jay Rockefeller in 2014.
The confirmation came in an interview with West Virginia radio personality Hoppy Kercheval on Wednesday, during which the outgoing chairman of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, said, “like any citizen I want to serve the state of West Virginia and so in that way I am interested.” But Baxter, who is a Democrat, quickly added, ” . . . I’m a long way from having any idea that I will run.”
For more than two decades, Baxter, 66, has been chairman of Orrick, but at a partner meeting in January 2011, he announced that he would step down at the end of 2013. In October, Orrick announced that Silicon Valley–based corporate partner Mitchell Zuklie will succeed Baxter as chairman.
In an interview with The American Lawyer magazine last year, Baxter said his decision to step down was promoted by a desire ” . . . to do something else.” While at the time of the interview Baxter wasn’t sure (or just wasn’t saying) what that “ something else” would be, it is becoming more clear that it will be centered around West Virginia.
Baxter was traveling and not available for comment, but in an interview with a local West Virginia newspaper published Thursday, Baxter said that upon his departure from the chairmanship of Orrick, he and his family will relocate full-time to a home he owns on Hamilton Avenue in Wheeling, West Virginia.
During Wednesday’s radio interview, Baxter said, whether he ran for the U.S. Senate seat or not, he would focus on improving the lives of West Virginia residents. “God has blessed me, and I want to give something back and I want to give it back to West Virginia,” Baxter said.
Baxter, who sits on the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council and the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Education Alliance, said his focus would be on education. “I am very concerned that we are not doing enough to prepare our students for the jobs of the 21st century,” Baxter said during the radio appearance. Upon his departure from Orrick’s chairmanship, Baxter plans to go on a fact-finding mission of the state’s schools.
Baxter’s political ambitions have been much speculated about in both San Francisco, where Orrick is based, and West Virginia, where he grew up and where in 2002 Orrick opened a global operations center.
At Orrick, Baxter has been a central force in building up the once 250-attorney regional shop into an international firm with 1,100 attorneys and 25 offices. During his leadership of the firm, Baxter also emerged as one the legal industry’s thought leaders and trendsetters. In addition to moving the firm’s back office operations to the low-cost Wheeling, West Virginia, he has also spearhead efforts scrapping lockstep associate advancement, deemphasizing partner profits, and championing alternative fee arrangements.
According to The American Lawyer’s most recent Am Law 100 data, Orrick had grossed revenue of $846 million in 2011. Its profits per equity partner were $1.48 million, and its revenue per lawyer was $805,000.
Politics is likely to prove a tougher challenge for Baxter than profit and revenue benchmarks. Despite West Virginia’s Republican tilt in recent years, according to the Washington Post, the field for the Democratic nomination is expected to be crowded. In addition to Baxter, the newspaper pointed to Mike Callaghan, former state Democratic party chairman, Robin Davis, who sits on the state’s supreme court, Jeff Kessler, president of the state Senate, and Nick Rahall, who has represented West Virginia in Congress since 1976, as possible contenders for the Democratic nomination.
And whomever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to face U.S. Representative Shelley Moore Capito, who is the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
But Baxter appears ready for the challenge, as well as any accusations that he’s a carpetbagger. “West Virginia has been in my heart ever since I was a child, and I have spent a lot of time there over the past 10 years, but know I am going to be there on a full-time basis,” he said during the radio interview.