Ralph Baxter Jr.—who closed out his two-decade-plus run as Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s chairman and CEO earlier this year—has decided not to enter the race to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller in 2014.
Baxter, 66, announced his decision during an interview with a West Virginia radio station Thursday. “My family and I have decided that this is not the right time for us to seek political office,” he said during the interview.
Contacted later via cell phone, Baxter—who has deep family roots in West Virginia, spent part of his childhood in the Mountain State, and is in the process of relocating to Wheeling—was quick to stress that he may still enter the political fray in the future. “I don’t rule out seeking political office one day," he told The Am Law Daily. "But right now, my wife, Cheryl, and I are in transition, so running for office doesn’t seem like the right move.”
Added Baxter: “With a little more time, the best route for me to pursue will become clearer and clearer.”
Baxter emerged as a possible Democratic contender for the soon-to-be-vacant senate seat shortly after Rockefeller, a five-term incumbent Democrat, announced in January that he would not seek reelection next year. At the time, Baxter had begun to wind down his tenure as Orrick’s chairman and had announced his intention to move to West Virginia full time. (Silicon Valley–based corporate partner Mitchell Zuklie succeeded Baxter as Orrick’s chair and CEO in March.)
While Baxter has spent the bulk of his professional life in San Francisco—where he joined Orrick as an associate before rising to become the firm’s chairman and CEO in 1990—he has maintained his West Virginia ties, sitting on both the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council and the board of directors of the West Virginia Education Alliance.
Baxter tells The Am Law Daily that despite foregoing the Senate run, “I will be very active in addressing the issues the state of West Virginia faces.” He cites education and job creation as specific areas in which he plans to focus his energy. Baxter has already had an impact in the latter category. Under his direction, Orrick opened a back office facility dubbed the Global Operations Center in Wheeling in 2002. The facility now includes about 300 staff and attorneys.
During Baxter’s tenure as Orrick’s top leader, he led an expansionist push that transformed what was a California-centric 250-attorney firm into a global force that, according to the most recent Am Law 100 data, had 977 lawyers, gross revenue of $866 million, and profits per partner of $890,000 in 2012. Over time, Baxter also emerged as a legal industry thought leader, who embraced alternative approaches to associate advancement, billing, and law firm financial metrics.
While his attention turns to West Virginia, Baxter, whose official title at Orrick is now chairman emeritus, says he plans to remain engaged in the legal industry. “It is truly a time of revolution in the way legal services are delivered and I want to keep my hand in that.” he says. “I want to continue to be active in the law, and I will in one way or another.”