Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Craig Martin will be the next chair of Jenner & Block, becoming the fourth lawyer to hold the title in Jenner’s 105-year history, the firm was expected to announce Wednesday.

Martin in 2016 was named chair of the Chicago-founded firm’s litigation department, whose roughly 400 members account for about two-thirds of the firm’s lawyers. The firm chair position was vacated in April last year, when Anton “Tony” Valukas stepped out of the role he had held since 2007.

The firm’s managing partner, Terrence “Terry” Truax, has been in that role since 2014, and he will continue to handle the firm’s management responsibilities.

Craig Martin. (Courtesy photo)

“In appointing Craig as chair of our firm, our partners at Jenner & Block are looking to Craig for his energy, focus and very importantly, the strategic and client-centric approach to the marketplace he has applied to his work over many years,” Truax said in a statement.

Known for his courtroom advocacy as well as his boardroom counseling, Chicago-based Martin has been a go-to lawyer for a long list of the firm’s largest and longest-running clients, including General Dynamics, Chicago’s Crown family, insurer Aon, United Airlines, Northern Trust Bank and others.

“Jenner has always been considered top-of-class, but I think what you get in Craig is somebody who can personify what that firm is,” said Steve Cohen, general counsel of MacAndrews & Forbes Inc. “And at the most successful and best firms, having someone in a leadership role that can really represent what that firm can offer makes a huge difference.”

A Harvard Law School graduate, Martin has practiced at Jenner his entire 30-year career. He said he viewed the role of firm chair as setting the long-term strategy for the firm. On that front, he said the firm would focus on providing clients with the highest level of advice in three broad practice areas: litigation, investigations and transactions.

From a financial perspective, Jenner has had a volatile five-year stretch. The firm’s revenue and profits per equity partner peaked in fiscal 2015 to $465 million and $1.7 million, respectively. Those figures last year came in at $449 million and about $1.4 million, according to The American Lawyer. The firm expects its 2018 top-line revenue figure to rise about 5 to 7 percent.

“Our focus is on serving our clients in their most important matters, and it is all about professional excellence,” Martin said. “When you are focused on those things, the other things follow that from that are the economic performance of the law firm; the professional development of our people; and the protecting of our clients’ reputations.”

Shaping the Firm

At 55, Martin will be the youngest chair in firm history. Prior to Valukas, the previous chairmen were Albert “Bert” Jenner (the firm’s namesake) and Jerold Solovy, another well-known Chicagoan who served in the role for 17 years leading up to 2007.

As a member of the firm’s leading policy committee since 2006, Martin has already played a leadership role at the firm, including building out at least two new practice groups on behalf of longstanding clients.

One of those groups is an aviation regulation practice that launched in 2017 with the addition of two former United Airlines in-house lawyers and the former leader of Crowell & Moring’s aviation practice. That practice came about after Martin oversaw Jenner’s work on an internal investigation into United’s dealings with David Samson, a politically connected Garden State lawyer and former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which resulted in the resignation of its former CEO, ex-Vinson & Elkins partner Jeffery Smisek.

Brett Hart, United’s general counsel, said the creation of that practice has led to an expanded relationship between Jenner and the Chicago-based airline.

“They built a talented group there,” Hart said. “And Craig has a real entrepreneurial spirit about him, so it’s not surprising that he took on that challenge.”

Martin also helped build a private wealth practice at the firm, which launched in 2016 and was lauded at the time by longtime firm client and Chicago-based billionaire Lester Crown.

“As far as Craig is concerned,” the 93-year-old Crown said in an interview Tuesday, “he’s the kind of person that you would like to do anything positive for that you could. Because that’s what he would do for you.”

Peter Lieb, general counsel of Aon, said the “professional excellence and client service” Martin said he wants the firm to focus on has been on display in Martin’s interactions with Aon, which have included high-profile courtroom battles.

“We feel like we’re his No. 1 client,” Lieb said. “He has invested the time to get to know our business. He is accommodating to our concerns. He goes the extra mile for us.”

Martin said the firm would continue to seek build out its services for its clients. Asked how he would compete in a crowded market, he said the firm would focus on its people.

“What we really are is a law firm that is filled with talented people and lawyers, professionals, at every level. And that is how you compete in the marketplace,” Martin said. “You compete with your talent. And I should say, the truth of the matter is, if you look at our track record and the types of matters we handle, we compete very well. So many corporations turn to us with their most significant problems.”

For Martin, reaching the highest point of firm leadership is a far cry from his first day at Jenner, Former managing partner and current General Dynamics general counsel Greg Gallopoulos said he let Martin in the office after he arrived earlier than anybody else and without a security pass.

“That tells the story of Craig,” Gallopoulos said. “He has enormous verve for the practice. If you ask him how he’s doing on any given day, he’s likely to quip that it’s a great day to be a lawyer, and I think he actually believes it.”