Susan Levy
Susan Levy ()

Susan Levy—who has spent her entire legal career at Jenner & Block and became managing partner in 2008—will leave the Chicago-based Am Law 100 firm as of May 1 to become general counsel of financial services giant Northern Trust Corp., a Jenner client.

“While we are very sad to see her leave the firm, we are exceedingly proud of what she has accomplished,” said a statement by Jenner chairman Anton “Tony” Valukas. “She will be missed.”

Jenner has not yet named a successor to Levy, who also serves on the firm’s policy committee and chairs its management committee. Her departure comes less than a month after The Am Law Daily reported that Jenner’s gross revenue fell 8 percent in 2013 to $357.5 million, while profits per partner plunged another 17 percent to $1.235 million.

Levy, 56, said at the time that the poor results was partly the product of federal government gridlock that hit Jenner’s government contracts and defense industry practices hard.

A litigator by training, Levy joined Jenner in 1982 straight out of Harvard Law School and rose steadily through the ranks as a protégé of longtime partner Nicholas Chabraja doing work for, among others, institutional client General Dynamics.

Chabraja spent nearly 30 years at Jenner before leaving in the early 1990s to become General Dynamics’ general counsel. He later became CEO of the massive Falls Church, Va.–based defense contractor, which hired former Jenner managing partner Gregory Gallopoulos as its general counsel in early 2008. Gallopoulos’ departure, in turn, led to Levy’s election in March 2008 as Jenner’s first female managing partner.

During her tenure at the top, Levy presided over a period of financial growth for Jenner. The firm handled a variety of high-profile matters between 2008 and 2012, including advising auto giant General Motors during its government-backed bankruptcy and subsequent initial public offering and the much-publicized Lehman Brothers bankruptcy report prepared by team led by court-appointed examiner Valukas. (The Lehman matter brought at least $58 million into Jenner’s coffers, while the firm reaped another $23 million from GM before, during and after its 40-day stint in Chapter 11.)

But Jenner also spent those years trimming its equity partner head count—particularly in Chicago—in order to boost overall partner profits, according to data compiled by The American Lawyer, which noted last year that the firm has one of the widest compensation spreads in the Am Law 100. (The spread is the ratio between a firm’s top paid and lowest paid partner.)

In Jenner’s statement Monday, Valukas praised Levy for “sound business judgment, strong legal skills and exceptional leadership capabilities,” as well as her “litigation and transactional capabilities.” (In a nod to the earlier moves to General Dynamics by Chabraja and Gallopoulos, Valukas added that “Susan also continues the recent tradition of our firm’s managing partner becoming the general counsel of one of our valued clients.”)

Despite its poor 2013, Jenner has snagged a few key roles so far this year, such as billing for more than $200,000 to advise New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled legislature in the Garden State’s Bridgegate scandal and being retained by GM to deal with the fallout from its vehicle ignition switch recall.

GM has been a longtime Jenner client through corporate chair Joseph Gromacki, who joined the firm from Kirkland & Ellis in 2003. Last fall Levy, one of the few women currently leading an Am Law 100 firm, spoke publicly about Jenner’s pleasure in bringing back for a second time ex–corporate chair and former GM general counsel Robert Osborne, who is now of counsel with the firm’s corporate practice in Washington, D.C.

Am Law 100 firm leaders leaving for top in-house roles is nothing new.

In 2012, Shearman & Sterling senior partner Rohan Weerasinghe left the firm to become general counsel of financial services giant Citigroup. Later that year, Dorsey & Whitney managing partner Marianne Short left the firm to become chief legal officer at health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. Both Short and Weerasinghe’s former firms have benefited from their new positions.

Kenneth Cutler, Short’s successor as Dorsey’s managing partner, told The Am Law Daily earlier this year that having her in a top role at a key client like UnitedHealth was important to the firm. Last week Citigroup appointed Shearman to advise it in a federal probe of a $400 million fraud at Mexican subsidiary Banamex, according to our previous reports.

As for Levy, in going to work for Northern Trust she joins a Chicago-based company that Jenner has advised in the past, mostly on litigation matters headed by the firm’s litigation cochair David Bradford. Levy replaces Kelly Welsh as Northern Trust’s in-house legal chief and will now oversee a legal department that includes fellow Harvard Law School graduate Kelly Dibble, hired in 2007 as the company’s director of public affairs and government relations.

Welsh joined Northern Trust in July 2000 and is now poised to succeed U.S. Secretary of State’s John Kerry’s brother Cameron Kerry—a former partner at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo—as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce following his nomination by the Obama administration late last year. Welsh, who has signed a government ethics agreement agreeing to divest himself of certain assets, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week. He has deep Windy City ties and is a longtime Obama supporter.