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Carl Buchholz is focused on the future. And at his age, he has that luxury. At 41, he is leading one of the country’s most prominent law firms. Appointed in May as managing partner and chief executive officer of Philadelphia’s Blank Rome, the baby-faced litigator was tapped to invigorate the 60-year-old firm and to help usher in what it hopes is a new era of opportunity. As with many law firms across the nation, 481-attorney Blank Rome is at a generational crossroads, with the organization’s older lawyers nearing retirement age and scaling down their practices. The resulting challenge for Blank Rome and other firms is instilling loyalty within an upcoming generation of lawyers, perhaps defined more by flip-flops than fortitude. “As a younger managing partner, there’s a sensitivity to issues and concerns of the next generation of lawyers,” he said. Buchholz replaced Fred Blume, 65, who became managing partner and CEO in 2003. A Philadelphia native, Buchholz served as general counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 and as special assistant for homeland security to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002. Baby boom effect Law firms, like other businesses, are starting to experience the first wave of baby-boomer retirement. They are bidding adieu to seasoned talent while simultaneously supporting benefit plans for them. In addition, they face abominable attrition rates among associates, 78% of whom leave their firms by the time they are in their fifth year of practice, according to a 2005 study by the National Association for Law Placement. [NLJ, Sept. 18]. Blank Rome is not alone in its next-generation strategy. In June, 670-attorney Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal named 40-year-old Elliott Portnoy as its new chairman, replacing 61-year-old Duane Quaini. Also in June, 507-attorney Cozen O’Connor of Philadelphia announced a “three-phase plan” to transition the firm’s leadership into the next generation. Buchholz, who started as a Blank Rome associate in 1992, said that a big part of his job will be to expand the firm’s depth of practice and its geographical reach, which likely will mean to the West Coast, the Midwest and Europe. Founded in 1946 in Philadelphia, the firm has eight offices, including locations in Washington; Wilmington, Del; and Boca Raton, Fla. It opened its New York location in 2000, and, earlier this month, a Hong Kong office. Known largely for its conservative lobbying business, Blank Rome has experienced respectable-though not stellar-growth recently. Its other key businesses include its commercial and real estate practices. In 2005, the firm’s gross revenue totaled $266 million, representing a 7.5% gain from 2004, according to The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal. Profits per partner in 2005 were $570,000, up 5.6% from 2004. But the firm’s gains were not as strong as those of some of its competitors. In its revenue-per-partner ranking last year among the other 100 highest-grossing law firms, it dropped four slots, to 83, and in profits per partner it fell three spots, to 91. Its gross revenue ranking was unchanged in 2005 at 76, compared with 2004. Buchholz said that the firm is “very mindful of profitability.” And he wants more. Since his appointment in May, the firm has clinched two deals. Earlier this month, it merged with New York-based Healy & Baillie, a 28-lawyer firm with offices in Hong Kong. The agreement, which followed Blank Rome’s acquisition of a maritime practice it gained through its 2003 merger with 42-lawyer Dyer Ellis & Joseph, makes Blank Rome a national leader in maritime law. In July, the firm struck an alliance with Interel, a public relations and lobbying firm in Brussels. Buchholz said he orchestrated both of those deals to enable the firm to “emerge significantly on the national and international stage.” That stage, however, will need fresh talent as older partners retire. Buchholz touts the firm’s “family” culture, its commitment to diversity and pro bono services, and its “flexibility” as the qualities that make it attractive to associates. But in an industry in which hundreds of firms make the same claims, distinguishing a firm from the pack and creating a truly different environment are formidable tasks. In a midlevel associate report released in August by The American Lawyer, Blank Rome was 99th out of 175 law firms ranked according to associate job satisfaction. With 34% of its third-, fourth- and fifth-year associates responding, the firm was ranked according to 12 factors, including associates’ relationships with other associates and partners, the interest and satisfaction level of work, training, guidance and management openness. The ability of a law firm’s management to make meaningful connections with younger lawyers and convince them to stay put has become vital for law firm growth, said Joel Rose, president of Joel A. Rose, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based consultancy that advises law firms on succession plans. Not only does law firm management need to create a smooth transition to next-generation leadership that can instill loyalty, it also must develop beginning lawyers’ careers so that they can connect with the new generation of clients, he said. Part of the challenge, he said, is convincing the younger generation both inside and outside the firm that the new leader actually is in charge. In Blank Rome’s case, David Girard-diCarlo, a powerful lobbyist, remains chairman of the firm. Girard-diCarlo, 63, who himself became managing partner and CEO of Blank Rome when he was 43, said that he was “extremely sensitive to the fact that it is very important for Carl to craft his own method” as a leader. For most firms, finding someone with a combination of youthful appeal, legal acumen and people skills to take the helm is not easy, since successful lawyers do not necessarily make effective leaders, Rose said. “The challenge is who to give it to,” he said. Sometimes, it boils down to a certain “selflessness” of otherwise qualified attorneys willing to take on administrative tasks, he said. Details, details Robert Darwell, 43, agrees. As the practice leader of the 50-attorney entertainment, media and communications practice group at Los Angeles-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, he said that one reason he leads the practice is that he is willing to handle management details, that fall outside the practice of law. “Sometimes it’s just an issue of whether there’s somebody to take the job,” he said. Darwell added that younger lawyers are easier to motivate than one might think. “There are certainly flakes out there,” he said. “But it seems that over the past couple of years, young associates seem more willing to stick it out to create opportunity within their existing firms.”

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