Shearman & Sterling has eliminated the job of its full-time general counsel, John Shutkin. The firm hired Shutkin in 2004 from KPMG International, where he had been general counsel for five years. Shutkin was one of the few law firm GCs brought in from outside the law firm world, part of a wave of hirings of in-house lawyers at The Am Law 100.
When Shearman hired Shutkin, the firm's senior partner David Heleniak said that the new job would include overseeing and managing "the areas of risk inherent in operating as a global institution." Heleniak left Shearman for Morgan Stanley in 2005 and now Shutkin's job is going, too.
Shearman spokesperson Ron Brandsdorfer says the decision was part of a broader management restructuring at the firm. "We're returning to the more traditional structure of partner oversight over risk management," he says. Overseeing the firm's risk management will become the responsibility of litigation partner Henry Weisburg, who will continue to maintain his practice. To put it differently, risk management at Shearman -- which, according to the latest Am Law 100 report, is a $921,000,000 firm spread across four continents, with 857 lawyers -- will become a part-time job.
"It's hard to say it's just cost cutting," says Brandsdorfer. "It's a broader realignment." As part of this restructuring, the firm in April reduced its executive committee from six members to three.
Reached at Shearman on Friday, Shutkin referred all questions to the firm's press spokesman. But he had earlier told The Lawyer that he did not want to leave. "If it were up to me I'd stay here," he said. "I'm leaving because they've decided to eliminate the position."
Elizabeth Chambliss, a law professor at New York Law School who has written about law firm general counsel, says that Shutkin's ouster surprised her, especially since so many firms are creating general counsel positions. "They're swimming against the tide to some extent. It's clear that the full-time professional model [for a general counsel], where it's a separate job, is taking hold." Chambliss notes that Shutkin was respected in the law firm general counsel community and that the elimination of his job "raised eyebrows."