Richard Cullen of McGuireWoods.
Richard Cullen of McGuireWoods. (Courtesy photo)

At year’s end, Richard Cullen will step down as chairman of Richmond, Virginia-based McGuireWoods—a position he has held for 11 years and which he has previously talked about leaving.

Cullen, 69, said he has been planning his succession for four years. He will remain at McGuireWoods after retiring from his leadership post at the firm, which has grown to about 1,100 lawyers.

A former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and Virginia attorney general, Cullen has practiced white-collar criminal defense law throughout his chairmanship. He currently represents Vice President Mike Pence in connection with probes into Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Cullen has recommended Jonathan Harmon, a partner and chairman of the firm’s corporate litigation section, to succeed him as chair. Under the firm’s governance policies, however, Cullen’s recommendation does not guarantee the spot to Harmon. A 22-member board of partners will hold an annual meeting in December and make the final decision on a new top leader.

For his part, Cullen said the move to step down reflects years of planning—and comes with a sense of accomplishment.

“The thing I’m most proud of is executing our strategic plan on being excellent,” said Cullen. He noted that prior to his assuming the chairman’s role, no former Supreme Court clerks worked at the firm, which now boasts seven SCOTUS alums.

During this tenure, McGuireWoods opened offices in seven cities, including in Texas, San Francisco and London, and its revenues nearly doubled to $682 million, according to American Lawyer reporting. Over the same period the firm’s Am Law revenue ranking climbed from 68th to 51st.

Cullen has planned on leaving for a while, he said.

“We started giving young people opportunities to take on leadership roles” in 2014, Cullen said about himself and Tom Cabaniss, who serves under him as a full-time managing partner of the firm, which has 23 offices worldwide.

At year-end, Cabaniss also will step down, and will continue practicing as a real estate and commercial lending lawyer. Whoever becomes the new chair will select a new managing partner.

Earlier this year, Frank Atkinson announced he intended to retire as chairman of McGuireWoods Consulting, the firm’s lobbying arm.

“It’s really just a coincidence,” Cullen said of the timing.

Asked if he welcomed the chance to leave law firm management behind, given the uncertainties and financial pressures confronting the industry, Cullen said: “I think we are facing challenges, but they are exciting challenges. I’m envious of the younger folks who are going to be leading at such exciting and challenging times.”