With William Voge out as chairman and managing partner of Latham & Watkins after an exchange of inappropriate messages with a woman not tied to the firm, a natural question follows: Who’s likely to replace him, and how soon?
As it stands, the answer is far from clear. Voge, who had taken the leadership position in 2015 after a 2014 election to replace longtime firm leader Robert Dell, resigned on Tuesday in light of what Latham described as “the exchange of communications of a sexual nature with a woman whom he has never met in person and who has no connection to the firm.”
Latham went on to say in its statement that the two vice chairs under Voge, Silicon Valley-based Ora Fisher and London-based Richard Trobman, a finance partner who became a vice chairman in February 2017, would lead the firm as interim co-chairs.
As the firm grapples with Voge’s sudden departure, which became public just a day before The American Lawyer reported that Latham was supplanted by Kirkland & Ellis at the top of the Am Law 100 law firm financial rankings, it’s possible that Fisher and Trobman might be considered as full-time replacements.
Fisher has held multiple leadership roles at Latham during the nearly three decades since she joined the firm in 1991. As vice chairwoman, she has had a hand in shaping Latham’s strategy and has focused on client relations, lateral partner recruitment and partner performance, according to the firm’s website. Trobman, who also has been at Latham since 1991, balances his leadership role with an active practice that focuses on capital markets work, including securities offerings, restructuring, and mergers and acquisitions.
But Fisher and Trobman are also joined on Latham’s current executive committee by six other partners: Washington-based white-collar lawyer Alice Fisher; New York-based corporate lawyer James Gorton; Chicago finance partner Brad Kotler; Orange County, California-based financial institutions litigator Michele Johnson; London-based corporate partner Martin Saywell; and New York corporate partner Lisa Watts.
There could, of course, also be competition from others, such as former executive committee members, a group that would include the two partners who were finalists in the election process that ultimately put Voge at the top of Latham’s leadership: Jeffrey Greenberg, a project finance partner and managing partner of the firm’s Los Angeles office who came in second to Voge in a run-off election in 2014, and Washington, D.C.-based private equity partner Paul Sheridan Jr., who was a third finalist in the run to succeed Dell.
As another alternative, Latham could opt to look outside of its long-standing leaders and senior partners and consider someone who has top leadership experience, someone such as Juan Picón, who was global co-chairman of DLA Piper before joining Latham in November. Picón now heads Latham’s office in Madrid, but at DLA Piper he not only helped lead an international legal enterprise as part of a small leadership team at the head of the firm, but also was respected as a corporate rainmaker and a charismatic leader with extensive global management experience. Under Voge’s leadership and Dell’s before that, Latham has placed an emphasis on its international work and expanded its global reach.
It is unclear whether Picón would want the job, however. Aside from the fact that he has not been at Latham for long, DLA Piper said at the time of Picón’s departure from the firm that his decision was motivated in part by family considerations, as the demands of a management role at a global firm saw him spend more than half of his time away from his Madrid home.
Contacted at his office on Thursday, Sheridan referred The American Lawyer to Latham’s public relations team.
“I don’t think we have anything to talk about,” Sheridan said in a brief phone call. Calls to several other senior partners, including Greenberg and Picón, either went unanswered or prompted additional referrals to the firm’s communications staff.
Responding to an inquiry about the potential plan to replace Voge, a Latham spokeswoman said in an email, “We don’t have anything further to add at this time.” The spokeswoman didn’t respond to a follow-up email seeking confirmation of who currently composes the firm’s full executive committee.
Aside from the question of who might take Voge’s spot, it’s also unclear as of Thursday what the process will entail and for how long it would go on. As The American Lawyer reported in 2014, when Voge was elected to replace Dell after his roughly two decades at the helm, the leadership transition involved a monthslong process.
Some 38 candidates threw their hats into the ring initially, and as that number was winnowed down, the three finalists—Voge, Sheridan and Greenberg—embarked on an intense tour of the firm’s different offices. Their roadshow involved meeting with partners throughout the firm while also juggling their daily practice responsibilities. In the end, after about eight months of campaigning, all three told The American Lawyer that they believed the process was transparent, open and gave Latham partners a full chance to participate.
“Partners in our firm now really own and embrace their decision,” Voge said at the time.
Whatever process Latham goes through this time as it replaced Voge will have to happen earlier than the firm likely expected. Voge, who was 57 when elected chairman, said in 2014 that he planned to stay through one five-year term.
That would have ended almost two years from now, at the start of 2020.