In the past several months Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has dealt with a series of partner defections and reports of discontent among its disparate offices. Now the national firm is revamping its management structure, appointing Kim Koopersmith, a New York-based litigation partner, as its first managing partner, starting October 1.
"I think [Koopersmith's appointment] is probably a natural conclusion of the restructuring that we've done," says fellow Akin Gump litigator R. Bruce McLean, now in the tail end of his 16th year as chairman of the firm. "What we're doing with the managing partner title is recognizing the contribution that Kim makes to the ongoing management and leadership of the firm."
Koopersmith will be one of only a handful of female managing partners from Am Law 100 firms. Prior to joining Akin Gump 15 years ago, she worked at New York's Anderson Kill & Olick. The New York native had served McLean in an advisory role while a member of Akin Gump's nine-member executive committee.
But last winter McLean says the firm replaced the executive committee with a six-member policy and planning committee to focus on long-term strategy. The move was part of a broader effort -- as reported by sibling publication Legal Times -- to revamp Akin Gump's management structure and reprioritize certain practice areas.
McLean says he relied upon Koopersmith and Rick Burdick, the Washington, D.C.-based head of Akin Gump's international corporate transactions practice, to "take a long look at firm management and how we do it." The end result, he says, was a formalizing of their leadership roles. (Burdick will become the firm's partner in charge of European operations.)
The two will continue to practice in addition to their firm management duties. (McLean's current tenure as chairman will expire in 2011.)
"I've been involved in firm management in one capacity or another for the past eight or nine years, and I've been working closely with Bruce for the past two or three years," Koopersmith says. "I can help Bruce focus on his talents -- such as implementing the strategic vision, lateral partner recruiting and practice development -- so that we can organize ourselves to be most effective in management."
Koopersmith will continue handling associate recruiting and retention, as well as various professional development efforts. She chairs the firm's partnership admissions committee, which oversees the process of partnership promotions and conducts the vetting process for laterals. While McLean will spearhead any major lateral initiatives, Koopersmith says she is already involved in lateral recruitment and expects that work with the firm's chairman to continue.
And Akin Gump also needs to keep current lawyers aboard. The firm, which ranked 29th in this year's Am Law 100 with gross revenues of $752.5 million (a 3.6 percent increase over last year) and profits per equity partner of $1.2 million and change, has suffered several high-profile defections in recent months.
The 881-lawyer firm saw litigation rainmakers Michael Madigan and Richard Wyatt Jr. depart for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Hunton & Williams, respectively, this past summer. And a recent story in Washingtonian magazine wonders whether Akin Gump will outlast its 89-year-old founding partner Robert Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. (Several former Akin Gump partners contacted for this story either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to phone calls.)
But McLean is confident in Koopersmith's abilities to help lead the firm in a new direction, a direction that he hopes will help it become a premier national firm.
"She has the full range of authority over lawyer life at Akin Gump: nonpartner recruitment, development, evaluation and promotion," he says. "And [Koopermith's] had that responsibility for some time, so this is not only a continuation of what she's already been doing, but a chance for her to become more involved [in management]."
Both Koopersmith and McLean dismiss the notion that Koopersmith's appointment is a bone to the firm's New York office, which has grown increasingly powerful in recent years.
"I don't think [tensions between New York and other firm offices] has anything to do with this," Koopersmith says. "I like to think that I was [appointed] to where the buck passed on a lot of these issues because I was the right person for the job, not because I'm from New York. I think if I was from Austin, Texas, this is still what we would have done." Adds McLean: "She simply happens to live in New York -- the results would have been the same if she lived in Texas."
Koopersmith says she will travel to all of Akin Gump's 12 offices as part of her new role, noting that she'll now have an office in Washington, D.C., in addition to her current office in New York.
"I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity," she says. "I've put my heart and soul into this law firm and I look forward to continuing to do that."