Butler Snow, a fast-growing, 300-plus lawyer firm based in the U.S. Southeast, has named its first new chairman in 14 years.
Christopher Maddux, a Jackson, Mississippi-based bankruptcy and transactional partner, will take over as chair in 2020 from Donald Clark Jr., the firm said Wednesday.
Maddux is no stranger to leadership roles at the firm, currently serving as the chair of its business group and having served on its executive committee and compensation-setting committee.
Still, Maddux will have big shoes to fill in the top spot.
Clark took the reins in 2006, when the firm had 140 lawyers in three offices. Since 2010, revenue at the firm has more than tripled to $181.5 million, Maddux said in an interview with The American Lawyer. That level of revenue would likely put the firm near the middle of the Am Law Second Hundred. The firm’s head count has nearly doubled from about 165 lawyers in 2010, according to ALM data, to 309 lawyers last year. The firm’s profits per equity partner last year came in at $490,000, according to preliminary ALM data.
“It’s a daunting challenge any time you follow Bear Bryant,” Maddux said, referencing the legendary University of Alabama football coach. “But the one thing we have been committed to—and this goes back two predecessors—is servant leadership. When you think about serving in [the chair] role in this firm it is about being a servant to and leading out of a position of listening to your partners.”
Maddux said he expects the firm to top $200 million in revenue this year as it continues to fill in its roster in the Southeast and look to add lawyers in cities including New York, Atlanta and Denver. Two of the firm’s practice groups that would be most likely to expand, Maddux said, include its pharmaceutical and medical device litigation group and its public finance, tax credits and incentives practice.
In a statement, Clark said of Maddux: “He is eminently qualified and experienced in a variety of areas of firm management, and he will make a great chair. Chris will bring new energy, innovation and fresh ideas that will continue to move Butler Snow forward in a rapidly evolving legal marketplace.”
Maddux attributed much of the firm’s recent growth to Clark for his strategy in the recession to double down on growing the firm’s office base and head count. Clark has said the decision was based on the investment principle of “buy low, sell high.”
Of the firm’s current 26 offices, all but three have been opened since 2011. The firm’s latest office openings came in 2016, when it planted flags in Singapore and Hong Kong.
“When firms were contracting, we were intentionally and effectively growing,” Maddux said.
Investing in the firm’s future, Maddux said, will continue to be a focus under his leadership. He said the firm “sees changes as opportunities,” and will use that approach to respond to an increasingly complex legal services market that includes new competitors like technology firms, legal staffing businesses and accounting firms.
Butler Snow has already launched a number of subsidiaries, including an advisory and consulting business for midsized businesses and an economic development consulting firm.
“When you talk about [artificial intelligence], new entrants such as accounting firms or nontraditional firms, any time we see change, we’re going to see that as an opportunity and we will have a chance to grow through that,” Maddux said. “We will continue to invest in the future to make sure we are prepared for those changes.”