As it wrestles with an ongoing slump in its core capital markets practice, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has shaken up its top management team.
The New York-based law firm announced Wednesday that Robert O. Link, its longtime chairman and managing partner, would relinquish the position of chairman to W. Christopher White, effective March 1. Link will continue to serve as Cadwalader's managing partner and remain a member of the firm's six-partner management committee.
Gregory A. Markel, head of the firm's litigation practice and a management committee member, said the move had been a consensus decision by the committee aimed at broadening management responsibilities as the firm presses ahead in a number of relatively new practice areas.
Under the new management scheme, White, the chair of the firm's global finance group and also a management committee member, will focus more on strategic issues while continuing his practice, said Markel. Link, a full-time manager, will take on more day-to-day administrative responsibilities.
Markel said the elevation of White was "not in any way a criticism of Bob." He said the firm would regard White and Link as a team, with neither reporting to the other.
Link had been the firm's outspoken top leader since 1994. Under his leadership, Cadwalader, once widely considered a second-tier firm, rose to become one of New York's most profitable law firms. In 2006, the firm had profits per partner of $2.9 million, ranking only behind perennial leaders Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York.
In an interview with the New York Law Journal early last year, Link predicted more success, saying: "Are we going to have trouble sustaining this? No, short of some cataclysmic event that hits everyone else too."
But Cadwalader has most recently been challenged by the downturn in the structured finance market, an area where the firm had been considered a leader and which had been its engine of growth. The firm announced last month it was laying off 35 associates and reassigning several more.
Markel said the firm's profits per partner for 2007 fell slightly to $2.7 million, a figure he said would have been lower but for the contribution of several high-profile lateral partners who have joined the firm in the past year.
Among these have been a four-partner bankruptcy group from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, an intellectual property practice from Morgan & Finnegan, and an antitrust team from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The firm most recently recruited the global private equity practice head from Latham & Watkins, R. Ronald Hopkinson.
Markel said the growth of these practices would be a priority for the firm during the credit crisis, but he said the firm fully expected the market for mortgage-backed securities to revive at some point.
Both White and Link were among the young partners who led a drastic restructuring of Cadwalader in the 1990s. Concerned that the firm was falling far behind other New York firms, they initiated Project Rightsize, which led to the ouster of unproductive partners and practices.
The firm has continued to take a notably aggressive stance on productivity, paying top performers far more than other firms but encouraging laggards to leave.