Longtime Reed Smith global managing partner Gregory B. Jordan is leaving the firm to serve as general counsel of PNC Financial Services Group, the firm announced Thursday.

Washington, D.C.-based partner Alexander “Sandy” Thomas, who has most recently led the firm’s litigation department, has taken over for Jordan as head of Reed Smith. Jordan will start in his new role October 15.

Jordan’s departure comes about a year after he was elected to another three-year term as managing partner of Reed Smith — where he was slated to lead the firm into 2015 — and follows a 12-year tenure at the helm of a firm he helped transform from a regional shop to a global powerhouse.

Jordan will now serve as executive vice president, general counsel and head of regulatory and government affairs at PNC. He will also have responsibility for the PNC Foundation and the Corporate Ethics Office. Jordan will join the company’s executive committee and report directly to new PNC Chief Executive Officer William Demchak, who was named president of PNC in April 2012 and CEO in April 2013.

Jordan is filling the role of former General Counsel Robert Hoyt, who left the post after 16 months to join U.K. bank Barclays. Hoyt had taken over for longtime PNC General Counsel Helen Pudlin, who retired in 2012.

Reed Smith has for years organized itself around key industry groups, with the financial services industry group being the largest. And the Pittsburgh-based law firm has long counted Pittsburgh-based PNC as a key client.

Jordan said Demchak personally recruited him after Hoyt resigned. While Jordan, 54, said he wasn’t thinking about leaving Reed Smith, he knew he wanted to eventually do something else and the timing was right for both the firm and him personally. He said Reed Smith is on pace to have another record year and has had a 12-month span of successful growth, including opening offices in Houston and Singapore.

Jordan spent 200 days a year traveling to meet with various firm clients, a number of which were in the financial services sector. He said he will bring those relationships, as well as his leadership experience, to his new role.

While the timing of Jordan’s departure may have surprised the firm, he said, his suggestion that Thomas take over was not surprising.

“People knew that’s how I felt,” Jordan said.

The 16 voting members of the firm’s executive committee, with the exception of Jordan, unanimously voted to name Thomas as the new global managing partner, Jordan said.

Thomas is a commercial litigator who, after serving in the U.S. Department of Justice, joined Reed Smith in 1999 through the firm’s combination with Virginia-based Hazel & Thomas. He served for five years as a practice group leader, then as vice chairman of the litigation department for two years. Thomas was elected to the firm’s executive committee in 2009 and for the past year has served on the firm’s senior management team as chairman of the litigation department, which includes more than 850 attorneys.

Jordan acknowledged the relatively short transition period in an era when many firms announce their succession plans more than a year in advance. But he said Thomas has had a hand in much of the firm’s day-to-day management through his previous leadership positions. Jordan also noted that there is a difference of opinion among law firm leaders as to whether a “long, slow transition” is a good or bad thing.

“There is a benefit to clarity in a law firm, and when you’re able to make it really clear who’s in charge, I think the firm will react really well to that,” Jordan said. “It’s very clear that Sandy is in charge.”

Thomas’ selection as global managing partner marks the first time Reed Smith’s top leadership position has been housed outside of Pittsburgh. Aside from the announcement earlier this week by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius that Philadelphia-based partner Jami Wintz McKeon will take over as that firm’s next chairwoman, a number of large Pennsylvania-based firms have recently looked beyond the state’s borders to find their next leader.

Such a trend is perhaps a testament to the increasingly national and global nature of firms as well as their move away from individual office management to management structures more focused across practice and industry groups. Jordan said Thomas’ ascension is a natural outgrowth of the firm’s expansion strategy.

“Talent rises to the top,” regardless of where it is based, Jordan said.

Thomas said he made a point at a recent partner meeting to express how important Pittsburgh is to the history and future of the law firm. In terms of his joining the firm as a lateral relatively recently, Thomas said he feels like he has a good sense of the firm’s management style and trajectory by the fact that his tenure has overlapped with a great transformation in the firm from a regional presence to an international law firm.

Experiencing the shift in providing legal services the industry has faced since the economic fallout of 2008 has also left its mark on Thomas.

“That’s very much conditioned my way of thinking about how we do business,” he said.

Thomas said he will be focused on how the firm can most efficiently and effectively deliver legal services — much of which he said the firm is already doing. Thomas noted pricing and staffing as two ways the firm can focus on efficiency. He said Reed Smith has increasingly used staff attorneys and he thinks that should continue.

The growth Reed Smith saw under Jordan’s tenure would be a difficult thing to replicate in this climate, Thomas acknowledged, but he said the firm is closely monitoring where its clients need it to be. He said he wants to grow more in Europe and will look to grow in markets that could support the firm’s energy practice, such as Canada and Australia.

When Jordan took office in 2001, Reed Smith had about 700 attorneys, around $300 million in revenue and had just finalized its combination with U.K. law firm Warner Cranston, establishing the firm’s first office abroad. Last year, Reed Smith crossed the billion-dollar revenue mark for the first time and has more than 1,800 attorneys across 25 offices.

Under his leadership, Reed Smith has entered into a number of substantial mergers, expanding the firm’s footprint into London, Asia and the Middle East. Reed Smith also opened a Global Customer Centre in Pittsburgh to house its back office operations and provide around-the-clock client support. And aside from the financial services industry group, Reed Smith has also grown its energy and life sciences industry groups under Jordan’s leadership.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.