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Thelen Reid & Priest’s longtime Chairman Richard Gary is not seeking re-election when his term expires this month, clearing the way for the first leadership change at the firm in 11 years. Gary took over as chairman of what was then Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges in 1992 and is credited with saving the firm from financial collapse. Gary then ushered Thelen Marrin through its 1998 merger with New York’s Reid & Priest and remained as chairman of the combined firm. Gary — who had a general corporate practice prior to becoming chairman — said he doesn’t know whether he will remain at Thelen after his current two-year term expires March 31. He said he is considering a number of options. “I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” Gary said. “I’m ready to try something new, something different.” Two partners have emerged as possible successors and are campaigning among the partners for the post. Charles Birenbaum, the San Francisco partner who heads the firm’s employment group, is facing Thomas Igoe Jr., a New York corporate partner who is the firm’s vice chairman under Gary. The two candidates also have unofficially aligned themselves with running mates for vice chairman, which is also an elected post. Igoe is teaming with Mark Weitzel, a San Francisco partner who is co-chairman of the firm’s energy, utility and infrastructure group. Birenbaum is aligned with David Graybeal, a New York project finance partner. Partners elect the firm’s chairman and vice chairman by secret ballot. The deadline for partners to submit their votes was the end of the day Friday, at which time ballots were to be unsealed and counted. Gary said he’s casting about for an opportunity that blends his law firm management experience with his corporate experience. “I have a pretty unique resume,” said the 59-year-old Gary. Gary, a 1968 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, joined Thelen Marrin as an associate in 1972. He made partner in 1977. Two years later, Gary left Thelen to work for a client, Kaiser Steel Corp., first as general counsel and then as president. He returned to Thelen in 1984 when Kaiser was sold. When Gary took over Thelen as chairman in 1992, the firm was in deep financial trouble and rumors of its demise were rampant. The firm’s debt level was rising, and its partnership ranks had shrunk by a third. Thelen’s overall ranks, which peaked at 351 lawyers in 1990, had slid to 238 lawyers two years later. And Thelen’s profits per partner had slid to $195,000, trailing the now-defunct firms of Pettit & Martin and Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon. Under Gary, Thelen laid off staff and associates and closed its offices in Oakland, Orange County, Washington, D.C., Houston and Hong Kong. The firm also froze associate salaries, instituted a new pay structure for partners that emphasized productivity and canceled its law school recruiting program for a year. Gary said that in the past 10 years, Thelen has seen steady growth in revenue and profits. Except for last year, the firm enjoyed an annual bump in profits in each of the past 10 years. In 2002, the firm’s profits per partner slid to $500,000, from $560,000 in 2001. Gary said the dip represented an investment in hiring more lawyers and partners and in taking larger offices in New York, San Francisco and San Jose to facilitate further growth. “I feel like I’m leaving the firm at a pretty good time,” Gary said. “I’m very proud of what we have accomplished.” Ralph Baxter Jr., chairman of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for the past 13 years, said Gary pulled off two major feats in turning Thelen around and executing its merger. “He’s an excellent business thinker,” Baxter said, “What he brings to law firm leadership is a combination of true professional strength as a lawyer, but also someone who has run a non-law business.” Stephen O’Neal, head of Thelen’s construction and government contracts practice, said Gary made an important contribution to the life of the firm. O’Neal said Gary and his executive committee at the time “brought decisive leadership to our firm when it was needed and helped us to become a stronger firm.”

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