Just over six months after Saul Ewing announced the leadership change, Baltimore-based partner Barry F. Levin officially took over as managing partner of the firm Jan. 21.
Coming off a fiscal year in which he said the firm beat its budget by 19 percent, Levin said his vision for Saul Ewing going forward is to “continue doing more of the same, just a little bit better on all fronts.”
One of the strategic focal points for the firm, Levin said, is a heightened emphasis on industry groups.
While Saul Ewing still has traditional practice groups, Levin explained, the firm is moving more toward a model where lawyers from several practice areas are pooled together into groups aimed at serving specific industries.
Levin said Saul Ewing has six main industry groups that “we think align with what exists in the economy at large”: complex commercial litigation, life sciences, higher education, insurance, energy and utilities, and private equity.
According to Levin, these groups are a response to both the post-recession drop in demand for legal services and the increased legal budget constraints clients are facing.
It’s more important than ever, Levin said, for firms to provide clients with the most value possible.
According to Levin, targeted industry groups allow the firm to staff matters with experienced attorneys who can do quality work efficiently and with a deep understanding of clients’ businesses.
So, for example, the firm’s energy and utilities group is composed of a mix of traditional energy lawyers and environmental, business and real estate transactional, trusts and estates and general corporate lawyers, all of whom are well versed in how their respective practices apply to the energy and utilities industry.
“These attorneys are not doing their first land lease or property acquisition for a utility or energy company,” Levin said, adding that many of the attorneys at Saul Ewing have previously had careers on the business side of the industries they now serve as attorneys.
The value of the industry group approach for clients is compounded by the fact that, because Saul Ewing is a midsized firm, these matters are staffed largely with partners as opposed to armies of associates.
“Unless certain projects require huge teams of lawyers, we don’t have the kind of leverage a lot of firms do,” Levin said. “We pride ourselves on having partners assigned to these projects.”
The increased focus on industry groups will also inform the firm’s growth moving forward, Levin said.
While Saul Ewing has no immediate aspirations to be a national firm, it would be willing to look at opportunities “on the perimeter” of what Levin called the firm’s “super-regional” geographic footprint, which extends west from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, south to Washington, D.C., and north to Boston.
However, Levin said, those opportunities would have to enhance the firm’s ability to serve clients in a certain industry or industries.
Still, Levin added that the firm’s first priority is to strengthen industry groups in its existing offices.
According to Levin, the firm, which grew overall by about 20 attorneys in 2013, added 12 life sciences lawyers and patent agents to its Philadelphia and Boston offices last year.
Levin, whose practice focuses on commercial, real estate, finance, and trusts and estates law, joined Saul Ewing in 2003 from Baltimore-based Siskind Grady Rosen Hoover & Levin, now known as Siskind Grady Rosen & Hoover. He chaired Saul Ewing’s business and finance department for the past three years.
Levin also served on the firm’s executive committee for six years.
He was selected as the firm’s new managing partner by partnership consensus in March of last year, replacing David S. Antzis, who was required by firm policy to step down from the position when his second four-year term ended this month.
Antzis has since returned to his mergers and acquisitions practice full-time.
Levin, meanwhile, is the first managing partner in the firm’s history to be based outside the Philadelphia area.
But Levin said Jan. 23 that he doesn’t believe being based in Baltimore will present a challenge for him in leading the firm, as Saul Ewing does not identify itself as a Philadelphia-based firm.
Having a managing partner based outside of Philadelphia is a “natural evolution” for the firm, Levin said.
“We are, for the most part, administratively based in Philadelphia,” Levin said. “But we don’t refer to ourselves as a Philadelphia firm, although the press does a lot.”
Levin said he plans to make an effort to visit all of the firm’s offices on a regular basis.
“I am going to be a managing partner that has lots of in-person time with all of my colleagues in all of our offices,” Levin said.