During his nine-year run as CEO of Michigan-based Am Law 200 firm Dickinson Wright, William Burgess oversaw a growth spurt that has seen its revenue more than double since 2010. In the past two years alone, Dickinson Wright has jumped 20 spots in the Am Law 200 to rank No. 131 last year.
But all good things must come to an end. Sort of.
Dickinson Wright has a three-term limit on the CEO role, but Burgess will stay in a leadership role: He has been elevated to chairman of the 440-lawyer firm that brought in $522,000 in profits per equity partner last year. The most recent chairman at Dickinson Wright was Jim Samborn, who served in the role from 2010 to 2017.
The firm announced in October that Michael Hammer, who had served as Burgess’ deputy CEO, would be the firm’s new CEO.
Burgess has spent his entire 35-year legal career at Dickinson Wright and has been in management roles for about 20 years, he said.
The growth experienced during Burgess’ leadership of the firm came mostly during a turbulent post-recession period that has been marked by lagging growth in demand, increasing competition among firms and a growing requirement to invest in technology and other processes in order to service clients more efficiently.
“I do think that opportunity exists within any change driven by market forces or competitive forces,” Burgess said. “If you know what you are, don’t pretend to be something else. And if you listen to needs of clients and their rightful demand for value and efficiency in assisting them with their legal and business problems, you can create real opportunity out of a challenging marketplace. And if I am proud about anything our management team has accomplished over the past nine years, I do think we’ve created that opportunity for our future, hand in hand with client involvement.”
Dickinson Wright’s most recent group hire came in November, when it brought on a five-lawyer IP team that was formerly the bulk of boutique firm Mayback & Hoffman.
Last year, the firm launched in Silicon Valley with a six-lawyer intellectual property team brought over from California’s Downey Brand. The firm also expanded a Toronto office in 2011 by bolting on 25-lawyer local firm Aylesworth; two years later, Dickinson Wright absorbed 60-lawyer Arizona firm Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander. In 2015, Dickinson Wright brought on large groups of lawyers from a pair of dissolving firms: Las Vegas-based Gordon & Silver and Washington, D.C.-based IP boutique Roylance, Abrams, Berdo & Goodman.
In an October interview with The American Lawyer, Hammer, the incoming CEO, said the firm would continue to focus on hiring and growing the firm’s footprint. He said the firm will also will invest in technology and seek to increase the hiring and promotion of women and minority lawyers and seek to provide a flexible work environment to attract young talent.
As for Burgess, the veteran law firm leader offered advice on what he found to be important qualities for managing attorneys.
“First of all, you have to be yourself. You have to have confidence that those who placed trust in you knew what they were doing based upon your track record as a professional and a person,” Burgess said. “It is critical that you be a good listener and really listen to things that are going on with your clients, prospective clients, the marketplace and competition. And those two things, in particular, are vital.”