Peter Sullivan, chairman of Hinshaw & Culbertson/courtesy photo Peter Sullivan, chairman of Hinshaw & Culbertson/courtesy photo

Hinshaw & Culbertson on Friday named Chicago-based Peter Sullivan as the firm’s third chairman in the past 30 years. The 60-year-old litigation partner and Hinshaw lifer has a goal to return the firm to head count and revenue growth after three straight years of declines.

Revenue at the Chicago-founded firm in 2018 fell 4 percent from the prior year to $208.5 million, according to preliminary data from ALM. That marks a roughly 7.3 percent decline since the firm’s revenue peaked at $225 million in 2015. The firm’s head count also reached a high that year of 497 lawyers, and last year fell to 423 lawyers, according to ALM Intelligence data.

The firm’s full-time equivalent (FTE) lawyer head count has declined nearly 15 percent during that three-year stretch, which is roughly twice the rate of its revenue declines. As a result, the firm’s revenue per lawyer has increased. Revenue per lawyer at the firm last year was $493,000, a 2.9 percent rise from the prior year and an 8.4 percent increase from 2015. Profits per equity partner last year fell nearly 6 percent to $482,000, according to ALM Intelligence.

Sullivan said the declines in head count were partially a management response to overcapacity as well as some lateral departures to competitive firms.

“We think we can get that back,” Sullivan said. “We think Hinshaw is a great firm with a great reputation, great practice areas and great clients. And we think we can get back to 450, 500 lawyers, and that will certainly be one of the focuses of my chairmanship: to grow the firm and get that FTE back up over time. That is certainly a key focus.”

Hinshaw & Culbertson financials Hinshaw & Culbertson financials

The firm’s leadership change, Sullivan said, was driven by a decision by the former chairman, Kevin Burke, to return to his litigation practice. Burke, who had said in 2016 that he was shaping the firm to compete in four main practice areas, will remain in a leadership role that the firm said will be focused on “strategic relationships and innovation efforts.”

In particular, Burke’s goal will be to deepen the firm’s understanding of how the legal market is changing and help the firm respond to it, the firm said in a release.

“While our lawyers focus on the here-and-now of the challenges facing the firm’s clients,” Burke said in a statement, “Peter and I are committed to making sure Hinshaw is also a law firm of the future, at the leading edge of delivering the legal services our clients require to achieve success in the next decade and beyond.”

Sullivan joined Hinshaw in 1983 as an associate, one year before Burke, another Hinshaw lifer. Before Burke’s four-year stint as chairman, Hinshaw was led for 26 years by Don Mrozek.

Burke, who was voted firm chairman in 2014, took the title in 2015, following a year transition period. Sullivan’s transition to chairman took less time. The firm’s executive committee (comprised of more than 20 partners) voted unanimously within the last two weeks to nominate Sullivan as a candidate for chairman, he said. A broader partnership vote followed on Thursday, Sullivan said.

While Sullivan will seek to grow the firm’s head count, he said the firm was not as focused on limiting that growth to the practice areas Burke had favored, representing insurance companies; lawyers and professionals facing malpractice claims; consumer businesses; and handling business litigation.

Sullivan said the firm was also focused on growth in representing midmarket business and its tort defense practice, and the firm would seek to grow in cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and South Florida.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to grow the other offices,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot more legal work in the major metropolitan areas. So logically focusing on those would be wise for the firm.”

In addition, Sullivan said he will focus the firm’s efforts on adopting technology to become more efficient and to further developing its knowledge management capabilities. The firm in 2017 hired Vishal Agnihotri as its first chief knowledge officer. Sullivan said Agnihotri has been building a database that allows the firm’s lawyers to search and retrieve work product from similar matters.

“Our lawyers need to know how to use [that system], they need to know it exists, and they need to use it,” Sullivan said.