Michael Martz is joining a short list of leaders in the long history of Ohio-based Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.
As is tradition at the nearly 375-lawyer firm, the outgoing managing partner, Russell Gertmenian, handpicked Martz, a corporate lawyer, to be his successor. Gertmenian served in the managing partner role for 11 years and will retire at year’s end, when Martz will step into the firm’s top leadership position. Gertmenian internally selected Martz in September 2016, and the pair have been working together on transition matters since then.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve never had a bad managing partner,” Martz said. “Once they’re selected, they’ve typically [served as managing partner] very close to when they retire.”
No pressure, then.
Martz said the process to choose a managing partner at Vorys is not as unilateral as it sounds. Like his predecessors, Gertmenian interviewed all of the firm’s equity partners to hear suggestions about who should emerge as leader. That process has led to surprises in the past, such as when Webb Vorys bypassed his son, the late Arthur Vorys, and chose John Elam as managing partner in the 1960s. Elam, a litigator, went on to serve through the 1990s.
Martz said he’s undertaking his own round of interviews with Vorys’ partnership in order to craft any broad strategy changes at the firm. He expects to complete that process by July 2018. He doesn’t feel many big changes will need to be made, however. The firm has grown gross revenue every year since 2010, bringing in $189 million in 2016 and landing at No. 149 in the Am Law 200. Under Gertmenian, the firm opened offices in Houston and Pittsburgh.
“I think Russ has done a phenomenal job of guiding our firm through a really evolving industry and the great recession,” Martz said. “We have fared extremely well. The firm is very strong and stable right now and I think a lot of that is due to Russ’ leadership.”
Still, firms in the Am Law Second Hundred have been confronting a challenging legal market defined by pricing pressures from clients and competition from alternative legal service providers. The Second Hundred grew gross revenue by 1.2 percent last year.
“I think there is absolutely no doubt that we’re going to see more and more alternative legal service providers, especially in those areas that are commodities,” Martz said. “And the pricing pressures will continue, especially for firms in the Am Law 200. That’s a reality. But I think there are opportunities for firms that can price their services and staff their services appropriately to do very well in this evolving market. That’s something we will think a lot about.”
Martz said that Vorys is also renaming its technology committee to include “innovation,” in an effort to develop technologies and processes that make the Columbus-based firm more efficient. He said younger lawyers will play an important role in that process.
“We absolutely believe that if you can identify those technologies that help you provide services more efficiently, that will be a huge competitive advantage,” said Martz, who is unrelated to the former innovative National Football League head coach of the same name. “We are going to devote more resources and time—attorney and staff time—to look at how we can be innovative and adapt to the market so it’s a competitive advantage.”