The abrupt resignation of Latham & Watkins chairman William Voge in light of “communications of a sexual nature” has left many in the industry scratching their heads.
Until recently, Voge balanced his leadership responsibilities at Latham, a $3 billion-a-year business and one of the world’s preeminent law firms, with roles on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including at least two groups rooted in Christianity. And, long before he entered the world of Big Law, Voge had a modest upbringing on a farm in Iowa and became the first in his family to attend college—humble roots that he sometimes referenced in public speaking events and media interviews after taking the helm at his firm.
Yet, as Latham put it in a statement on Tuesday, Voge stepped down after engaging in conduct that, “while not unlawful, the executive committee concluded was not befitting the leader of the firm.” A Law360 article regarding Voge’s resignation described a series of exchanges with an unnamed woman that initially involved lewd text messages and escalated to threatening comments aimed at the woman and her family.
Many details about the circumstances that led to Voge’s departure remain murky. But it is clear that Latham found the conduct serious enough to accept Voge’s resignation and Voge felt compelled to apologize in a statement of his own on Tuesday, citing a “personal mistake” and “lapse of judgment.”
“It is with great sorrow that I step down as chair and managing partner of Latham & Watkins. I made a personal mistake for which I bear considerable fault and humiliation. I deeply regret my lapse of judgment and I am sorry for the distress and embarrassment I have caused my family, friends and colleagues,” Voge said. “My conduct falls well below the personal and professional standards I have tried to uphold throughout my entire career.”
The American Lawyer reached out on Wednesday to Terry Ekl, an Illinois-based partner at Ekl Williams & Provenzale who is representing Voge. Ekl declined to comment further.
“I have discussed the issue with my client and at this time neither he nor I will be making any further comment concerning the circumstances surrounding his resignation,” Ekl wrote in an email on Wednesday.
Voge, who typically goes by Bill, started at Latham as a young associate in 1983 after earning a law degree and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. While still an associate, he was one of a small group of Latham lawyers who launched the firm’s New York office. After his election to partner in 1991, Voge built a reputation at the firm as a rainmaker in the global project finance group who was qualified in both U.S. and English law and who served in Latham’s New York, London and San Diego offices at various points during his career.
Between 1998 and 2002 and again from 2008 to 2012, Voge was elected to the firm’s executive committee; between 2007 and 2008, he also headed the global finance department. He also played a key role in spearheading the opening of the firm’s Middle East offices, according to a report from The American Lawyer after Voge was elected as Latham’s chairman.
His bid for the top leadership role at Latham began in 2014, after former longtime firm leader, Robert Dell, announced his intention to step aside after roughly two decades at the helm. Voge eventually became one of three finalists to succeed Dell, alongside Washington, D.C.-based corporate partner Paul Sheridan Jr. and Los Angeles finance partner Jeffrey Greenberg; Voge ultimately secured the chairman role after a runoff election against Greenberg.
After he emerged as Dell’s chosen successor, Voge, then 57, told The American Lawyer he intended to remain in the chairman role for a single, five-year term. As it turned out, he lasted a little more than three years.
But his ascendancy into the upper echelons of the legal industry stands in contrast to an early life marked by humbler beginnings. Brought up on a farm in Iowa, Voge spent time in the U.S. Army during the 1970s and was the first in his family to attend college—a background he appears to have discussed at a Yale Law School event last April and at his law school alma mater in Berkeley, California, in October. He also talked about his upbringing in 2015 with the U.K.-based publication Legal Business, saying that he grew up on a family farm that raised cattle and hogs, an environment that didn’t give him much exposure to the types of high-end legal professionals he’d later work alongside.
“No one around had a notion I would go to college or law school,” Voge told Legal Business when describing his early years. “It’s a modest background and every day I realize how lucky I am.”
While Voge’s exposure in the press generally stemmed from his role at Latham, he also appears to have had an active life outside the firm, particularly in connection with several nonprofit organizations. Voge previously sat on the board of directors and headed up Latham’s partnership with Not For Sale, a group focused on combating modern-day slavery and forced labor. Though Voge is no longer listed as a Not For Sale board member, another Latham lawyer, San Francisco managing partner Karen Silverman, now sits on the board, according to the group’s website.
Voge also served as a director of Christian Camps and Conferences Inc., an organization that runs Christian faith-based youth summer camps in Maine and New Hampshire. His role for that group included serving as chairman of a fundraising campaign that raised millions of dollars for the nonprofit, according to the organization’s website. His wife, Jami Voge, has also held a leadership position at a Christian nonprofit called Awakening to God, serving on the board of directors for the California-based ministry group.
Ultimately, it appears that Voge’s connections to another group—a Christian men’s organization called the New Canaan Society—might have led to his downfall at Latham. It was reportedly through his connection with New Canaan Society, where Voge had been on the board of directors, that the former Latham chairman first made contact with a woman with whom he later exchanged inappropriate messages. That initial conduct was intended to help arrange a “Christian reconciliation” with a separate New Canaan Society member. From there, however, the reported contacts between Voge and the woman deteriorated.
The New Canaan Society began in 1995 when founder James Lane—a former Goldman Sachs general partner—began hosting a bible study and Christian fellowship group at his home in Connecticut. Describing the group, Lane told the New York Times in 2006 that it was “a group of men who love each other and love Jesus.”
The organization, which appears to cater to professional men, eventually expanded to more than 50 local chapters across the U.S. On its website, the New Canaan Society bills itself as a “a group of men who gather to encourage each other in friendship and faith and to support each other to be better husbands, fathers—and better men—in the marketplace and in our communities.”
Voge had been on the board of directors of the group as recently as September, when he was scheduled to give a speech at a New Canaan Society event. As of Wednesday, however, he is no longer listed on the group’s website.