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Richard Gary, who just stepped down after an 11-year reign as Thelen Reid & Priest’s chairman, is exiting the firm to join Hildebrandt International as a law firm consultant. Gary will start work in Hildebrandt’s San Francisco outpost June 1. Thelen has worked closely with Hildebrandt consultants and its founder, Bradford Hildebrandt, in the past. The company, based in Somerset, N.J., helped broker the 1998 cross-country merger of San Francisco’s Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges and New York’s Reid & Priest, and has since advised the combined firm on growth and strategic issues. “I simply felt is was the best place for me to continue to pursue my interest in management and leadership issues — particularly as they apply to large firms,” said Gary, who served as Thelen, Marrin’s chairman before taking the helm of the merged firm. “I wanted to stay focused on the business of the practice of law.” Gary’s decision to join Hildebrandt comes as law firm consultants have been beefing up their ranks to handle an increase in business. Peter Zeughauser, a founder and partner of the Zeughauser Group in Newport Beach, said law firms are looking for more outside expertise to help them deal with competition. “They’re looking for help building a presence to maintain and enhance their competitive edge,” Zeughauser said. In a statement, Hildebrandt Chairman Bradford Hildebrandt said Gary will draw upon a unique work history as he advises other law firm managers. Gary “will offer our clients the expertise he developed both as the head of a major U.S. law firm for 11 years and as president and general counsel of a Fortune 500 publicly held company [Kaiser Steel Corp.],” Hildebrandt said in the statement. In late February, Gary began openly exploring opportunities outside Thelen after he told his partners that he would not seek another term as chairman when his term ended in March. Gary and his partners say he wasn’t pushed out of the firm or management. Instead, Gary said he decided after much thought that both he and Thelen needed a change. “Change is good for an organization,” Gary said. “The firm was in a good place, and we had accomplished a good deal. I really felt that it was time.” Mark Weitzel, a San Francisco project finance partner recently elected as Thelen’s vice chairman, said Gary built trust within the firm and saw it through some troubled times. “Rich provided strong leadership at the firm for many years and left the firm with a very strong foundation that we are now building on,” Weitzel said. Gary is credited with steering Thelen through a financial crisis in the early 1990s. The firm’s partnership ranks had shrunk by a third and it was taking on more debt. Under Gary, the firm engineered dramatic cost-cutting programs, including laying off associates and freezing salaries. Gary joined Thelen, Marrin in 1972 as an associate and made partner in 1977. After two years, he left to work for a client, Kaiser Steel, first as general counsel and then as president. The company was sold in 1984, and Gary returned to Thelen. He became chairman in 1992.

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