Two months into his tenure as chairman of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Silicon Valley dealmaker Mitchell Zuklie is already making his mark.
Zuklie, 44, who succeeded longtime chairman and CEO Ralph Baxter as Orrick’s top leader in March, detailed changes Friday that include the departures of three high-ranking executives who served under Baxter; the elimination of 21 staff positions; and the relocation of 11 jobs to the firm’s back-office support center in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Gera Vaz, Orrick’s chief human resources officer and U.S. executive director, has left the firm, and Peter Krakaur, the firm’s chief knowledge officer, will leave soon, Zuklie says. Reid Horovitz, who, as chief operating officer, served as Baxter’s top lieutenant, is departing at the end of the month.
"As you’d expect, any new management team will bring fresh eyes and fresh ideas," Zuklie says. "Ralph had a world-class executive team, and we want to continue to have a world-class executive team. There are no drastic changes, and the same principles that guided Ralph continue to guide us."
As a result of the changes at the top, Zuklie says, the firm’s human resources department will be consolidated with its lawyer development and officer operations departments and placed under the control of Laura Saklad, who currently holds the title of chief legal talent officer. "We used to have two structures, one for lawyers and one for staff," Zuklie says. "We didn’t think that made sense." The firm currently employs 1,167 lawyers and 1,250 staff.
Zuklie says the New York–based Horovitz expressed a desire to leave the firm last fall and agreed to stay until the end of June. Horovitz, who holds both law and business degrees and has been at Orrick for more than 11 years, did not immediately return a call for comment Friday. Asked last month about his future at Orrick in light of Baxter’s departure, he told The Am Law Daily that "things are up in the air."
Zuklie declined to comment on the circumstances under which Vaz and Krakaur are leaving the firm. Krakaur, whose biography was still posted on the firm’s website as of Friday, declined to comment when contacted by The Am Law Daily. He joined Orrick a decade ago from Heller Ehrman and has been based in the firm’s San Francisco headquarters. The name of a second now-defunct law firm also appears on Krakaur’s resume: Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, where he worked as an associate in the 1980s and 1990s and again as of counsel and head of knowledge management from 2000 to 2002.
Vaz could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. She, too, has ties to Brobeck, where she worked as director of human resources before joining a group led by then–Brobeck chair Tower Snow that launched a West Coast office for Clifford Chance in 2002. Widely viewed as the blow that effectively killed Brobeck, the move proved unsuccessful, with the team moving to Orrick in 2003 and the Magic Circle firm shutting down its California operations soon after.
The 21 staff positions being eliminated do not include secretaries or paralegals, says Zuklie, adding that employees were informed about the cuts Thursday and are being offered what he describes as "really generous severance." Affected departments include records, finance, and IT support in many of the firm’s nine domestic offices. Those in the 11 positions being moved to the decade-old Wheeling office will have the opportunity to move, he says.
One current Orrick partner, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that taking a fresh approach under new management makes sense, and that "frankly we’ve gotten a little bloated in our nonattorney staff structure. It was just time to do something about that.”
A number of other executives at the firm will remain in place, Zuklie says, including chief client relationship manager Jolie Goldstein, chief financial officer Linda Havard, and chief information officer Curt Meltzer. David Fries, a onetime Orrick lawyer who has been serving as chief client service officer while also assisting with the firm’s marketing efforts, will continue to play a leading role in project management and strategic pricing initiatives.
A seven-lawyer management committee and 10-person board of directors also help run the firm. Those groups include the three partners who, along with Zuklie, were under consideration to succeed Baxter: Los Angeles finance partner Alan Benjamin, San Francisco white-collar litigation partner Walter Brown, and New York product liability partner James Stengel. Zuklie won the role in October and Baxter stepped aside in March, nine months earlier than expected. Baxter—who is in the process of relocating full-time to West Virginia, where he has deep family roots—recently decided not to enter next year’s race to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller.
Unlike Baxter, who was a full-time manager for much of his 23-year reign, Zuklie has said he plans to continue practicing law. And as evidenced by a recent slideshow feature posted on Inc. magazine’s website, he’s likely going to fit in some boxing workouts when not running the country’s 27th highest-grossing firm. In 2012, Orrick took in $866 million in revenue and average profits per partner of $1.6 million, according to The American Lawyer‘s most recent Am Law 100.
"We were handed a very strong organization from Ralph," Zuklie says. "We’re making decisions slowly, and deliberately, and we think we’re just doing fine."
Julia Love, a reporter at sibling publication The Recorder, contributed to this story.