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Stephen Neal is stepping down as CEO of Cooley Godward Kronish, but staying in the role of chairman, the firm announced on Thursday. Reaching across the country, the Palo Alto firm has named Joe Conroy, a partner in the firm’s Reston, Va., office, to take the CEO slot in January. While Neal will continue to “help set the strategic direction” of the firm, he said Conroy will be its leader. “The CEO role is having ultimate responsibility for running a $500 million business,” Neal said. “The buck stops with him.” Neal, a busy litigator, headed the 600-lawyer firm for seven years. “It was actually longer than I ever contemplated staying in the position,” he said on Thursday. “We’re at the point where we’re strong financially; we’ve built out the platform � it seemed like the ideal time.” Conroy, a corporate lawyer, joined Cooley Godward in 1999 as a lateral. He helped open and headed the firm’s offices in Reston and Washington, D.C. Conroy also helped with the firm’s merger with New York’s Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman and opening the firm’s new Boston office, the firm said. “It is very desirable to get fresh blood in the role,” Neal said. “When you have a talent like Joe, you don’t want to let that pass.” The move � which includes making the CEO job full-time, has already had one major repercussion. The longtime executive director tendered his resignation. “In light of the decision to expand the CEO role from a part time role to a full time role, Dick Bradshaw has decided to resign, effective January 31, 2008,” a firm spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. Bradshaw, who joined the firm in the executive director slot in 1997, declined to comment. Palo Alto partner Mark Pitchford, the firm’s COO, will remain in his position. On Neal’s watch, the firm was determined to grow. Several merger possibilities, including one with Orrick, didn’t pan out before the firm finally wrapped up its combination with Kronish last year, expanding its East Coast presence. Last year the firm also hit $1 million in profits per partner for the first time. The diminished management role won’t mean Neal has any more free time. He’s been busy this year representing a former Marsh & McLennan executive on bid-rigging charges brought by New York prosecutors. With that caseload, Neal said, Conroy was already filling the CEO role. Conroy said he’ll continue on the track that’s been laid by Neal � one that could include expanding overseas. “Certainly a firm with a practice like we have has to be looking at Asia as a potential for expansion,” Conroy said, adding that Europe could also be on the horizon. Neal said he’s proud of how the firm has grown on his watch and also how the firm withstood the dot-com bust, despite the layoffs that crisis triggered. “I am proud of the way this partnership sort of stuck together through some times that challenged a lot of other firms,” Neal said.

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