Richard Fields, King & Spalding

King & Spalding has appointed Richard Fields director of corporate stakeholder engagement—a new position formed in response to the growing pressures on corporate boards in an era of fervent shareholder activism.

“The evolution of the corporate governance and shareholder landscape and the underlying structural factors driving this change requires us to adapt to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of our clients,” said James Woolery, head of King & Spalding’s M&A and corporate governance division, said in a statement. “The depth and breadth of Rich’s expertise, insights and connections make him an outstanding addition to our corporate practice.”

Fields is a former partner at professional services firm Tapestry Networks Inc. and a former white-collar litigator at Ropes & Gray. He has served as co-chair of the shareholder-director exchange working group and as a developer of the SDX Protocol, which is described on its website as a resource offering guidance to shareholders and boards on shareholder-director engagement.

“I am the inaugural holder of this position at King & Spalding and my role is to lead and develop a practice related to board leadership, corporate governance, and other senior leadership issues,” Fields said.

King & Spalding is not the first law firm to establish such a practice, and indeed competition among firms to lure and retain talent in this area has intensified in recent months. But at many law firms, governance is still merely one of many areas of expertise of corporate generalist lawyers, and there is no practice specifically devoted to it.

Fields said it is critically important in the present environment for corporate boards to be able to turn to external counsel who focus directly on corporate governance.

“A decade ago, some boards might have thought their responsibilities began and ended with the hiring, firing, and compensation of CEOs. That’s not the case anymore. Activism isn’t new, shareholder pressure isn’t new, regulatory and political oversight isn’t new, but the pace of each has picked up,” Fields said. ”The challenges facing senior company leaders have never been greater, and have never demanded a more holistic and nuanced approach than they do today.”