Whatever their titles—CEO, chair, executive partner, managing partner, managing shareholder, senior partner—the new leaders of The Am Law 200 have signed up for a bigger job than what their predecessors assumed. We looked at the two dozen most recent successions in The Am Law 100 to get a better sense of who these new leaders are.The latest group is long on age and experience. Many are markedly older than their predecessors were when they took over. Where 11 outgoing leaders took on the top job in their 30s and 40s—among them, Latham & Watkins’ Robert Dell, Orrickm Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Ralph Baxter and Perkins Coie’s Robert Giles—just four incoming executives are that young. The previous generation could shape their firms for decades; their successors will have less time to make their mark.
The incoming class of firm leaders continues to be overwhelmingly male. Three of the most recent firm executives or managing partner-elects on our list are female, while three departing leaders are also female.
The new leaders tend to be among the highest-earning, most productive partners. Most, like Stephen Immelt at Hogan Lovells and Jami Wintz McKeon at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, led important practice groups. In general, as firm managers they can expect to receive the same or slightly more in compensation, according to several firm leaders. How the leader’s pay is set varies; in a lockstep firm, the compensation is determined by seniority, while at other firms, executive pay is set by a compensation committee with input from the firm’s board or executive committee. At a few firms it’s set by a formula linked to the chair’s performance as well as the firm’s financial success.
They Want to Practice
In a shift, more new leaders say they plan to continue their practice. Morgan Lewis’ outgoing chairman, Francis Milone, 66, was a full-time manager; his successor, McKeon, 56, intends to spend about 25 percent of her time on client litigation matters. “We’re in a practice that’s changing a lot,” McKeon says. “It’s important that we, as firm leaders, see those changes. And it keeps you closer to your clients, and it’s also consistent with the firm’s philosophy that we’re all working lawyers here.” Likewise, Scott Edelman, 49, who succeeded Mel Immergut at Milbank in March 2013, spends half his time on client work. “You can expand the management side to be as big as you want, or the converse,” he says. “The firm likes the fact that I’m still practicing. They buy into the fact that we’re a law firm first, and a business second.”
The trend worries some consultants. “In this scenario, their clients’ needs are likely to take priority, to the detriment of the management of the firm,” according to a client advisory published earlier this year by Hildebrandt Consulting and Citi Private Bank, which called firm leadership a full-time role. Consultant Bradford Hildebrandt says the shift is “recession-era thinking that ‘we’ve had a few tough years, do we really need all this management?’” At the same time, he says, firm leaders wonder, “‘If I drop client work, what am I going to do when I step out of management?’”
Perhaps as a result, more new leaders are finding ways to delegate. Three firms, Cadwalader, DLA Piper and Littler Mendelson, split a top leadership job into dual roles. Usually, in a dual structure, the managing partner deals with the nuts and bolts of daily firm management; the chair focuses on client relations, bigger-picture policies and business strategy. Other firms have expanded boards or created new management positions.