Michael Hammer

When Michael Hammer takes the reins as CEO of Dickinson Wright in January, one part of the job will be familiar territory: Recruiting lateral hires and opening new offices.

Hammer has served for the past decade as the Detroit-based Am Law 200 firm’s deputy CEO, a role in which he oversaw the firm’s expansion out of the Wolverine State by hiring some 250 lawyers and opening roughly a dozen offices. For nine of those years, Hammer served under the firm’s outgoing CEO, William Burgess, who will complete his third three-year term at year’s end.

In the past five years, Dickinson Wright has been one of the fastest-growing firms in the Am Law Second Hundred. It has more than doubled its gross revenue since fiscal 2010 and jumped 20 spots in the Am Law 200 list in the past two years alone, slotting in at No. 131 in 2017 with gross revenue of nearly $221 million. With 440 lawyers, Dickinson Wright had $522,000 in profits per equity partner, with revenue per lawyer coming in at $502,000 last year.

Dickinson Wright’s most recent office opening came earlier this year when it launched in Silicon Valley with a six-lawyer intellectual property team brought over from California’s Downey Brand. The firm also expanded a Toronto office in 2011 by bolting on 25-lawyer local firm Aylesworth and two years later Dickinson Wright absorbed 60-lawyer Arizona firm Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander. In 2015, Dickinson Wright brought on large groups of lawyers from a pair of dissolving firms: Las Vegas-based Gordon & Silver and Washington, D.C.-based IP boutique Roylance, Abrams, Berdo & Goodman.

A bankruptcy partner who will give up his practice in order to dedicate himself full time to the role of CEO, Hammer said growing his firm’s footprint and hiring lawyers will remain an important part of Dickinson Wright’s strategy as the legal market grows more competitive.

“You just can’t be a firm that is happy where it is at because there is no guarantee you can stay there for even a year,” Hammer told The American Lawyer on Tuesday. “You have to be aggressive and continue to add talent and practice depth and geographic capabilities to maintain and grow your market share. I come to this position with a full understanding of that and it will continue to be very important for us.”

Hammer said Dickinson Wright will also focus on investing in technology; increase its hiring and promotion of women and minority lawyers; and provide a flexible work environment to attract young talent.

On the technology front, Hammer said his firm had already invested in two data centers, obtained a specialized data security certification known as an ISO and updated its billing and matter management platform to the latest version of Thomson Reuters’ Elite.

“We explain to partners that we are spending money investing in these data centers and in these new platforms, but you are going to need those to compete,” Hammer said.

In June, Dickinson Wright received the results of a study it commissioned from the University of Michigan into its hiring and promotion of women and diverse lawyers. The study showed that Dickinson Wright lagged behind national averages with regards to its hiring of women and minority lawyers, as well as the number of women and minorities that make up its partnership.

One bright spot in the study was that it showed that women and men were paid equally at the firm, Hammer said. He noted that the study was meant to provide the firm with an understanding of where it was as Dickinson Wright embarked on efforts to increase the number of women and minority lawyers in its ranks and bolster their satisfaction and ability to move up internally.

John Ziegler Jr. walks to an NHL board of directors meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 4, 2006. (J. Pat Carter/AP Photo)

Hammer said it was still too early to report results on the firm’s efforts, which have included training on implicit bias and also the creation of affinity groups.

As Dickinson Wright prepares for new leadership—The American Lawyer honored the firm’s chairman emeritus Dennis Archer with a Lifetime Achievement award a decade ago—it is also mourning the loss of a former partner, John Ziegler Jr., who served as president of the National Hockey League from 1977 to 1992.

Ziegler, who presided over a period of rapid growth for the NHL, was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. He had retired to Florida, where he died on Oct. 25. He was 84.