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SAN FRANCISCO-After 16 years as the strong, charismatic-and lone-leader of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Ralph Baxter Jr. will soon be sharing the chairman’s role of the post-merger Dewey Orrick firm. If the partners at Orrick and New York-based Dewey Ballantine approve a merger, he’ll share the chair with Dewey chief Morton Pierce for a five-year “transitional period.” Co-chairmanship isn’t common at law firms, but some have accepted it as part of a merger. Other firms adamantly avoid it because of the potential for disastrous disagreements and uncertain leadership. Shared chair Baxter and Pierce say the shared chair is an important component of their deal. “We’re going to be putting two firms together with great histories and that are quite large and far-flung,” Baxter said last week. “At the moment of putting these firms together, no one person can know everything or everyone.” During that transition period, Baxter, who is based in San Francisco, will also be the new firm’s “presiding partner.” Several consultants said they were unfamiliar with the title. Pierce said that it would involve heading up the day-to-day operations of the firm. “Ralph and I will be setting objectives, and Ralph will be making sure those are met,” Pierce said. Law-firm management experts say having co-chairs can be beneficial when there’s a true balance of power. “In some mergers where there really is a merger of equals, it can really help and it can inspire confidence in the partners that things that they like about the firm will remain the same,” said law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. The numbers aren’t perfectly matched. Orrick is larger than Dewey and growing faster. Orrick reported its 2005 gross revenue at $554 million-a 14.5% jump from the year before-while Dewey reported its 2005 gross revenue at $392.5 million, up only 3.2%. Orrick has 924 lawyers, Dewey has 544.
THE BIG MERGER Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe 2005 gross revenues: $554M, a 14.5% jump from last year Total attorneys: 924 Dewey Ballantine 2005 gross revenues: $392.5M, up 3.2% from last year Total attorneys: 544

Baxter, 60, has significantly more experience in the leadership role, with 16 years as chairman, compared with the 58-year-old Pierce’s one year as co-chairman and year and a half as sole chairman. Both Baxter and Pierce maintained that there is no inequality in the deal. “This is a merger of equals,” Baxter said, adding that both he and Pierce are strong leaders who will be able to collaborate well together. Still, Baxter said the co-chairmanship is more necessary than ideal. “Co-anything is something you only want to do in exceptional circumstances,” he said. The plan also raised questions about Baxter’s horizons-he has been rumored to have political ambitions, perhaps in his native West Virginia. Baxter was typically vague about long-term ambitions, but said he’s going to see the transition cycle through. “I’m committed to being here for these five years,” he said.

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