Keith E. Donovan, managing partner with Morris James Keith E. Donovan, managing partner with Morris James.

Morris James has a new top leader for the first time in a decade and a half, with Keith Donovan taking over as managing partner of the 70-lawyer firm.

Donovan took on his new role Jan. 1, the firm announced last week, replacing David Williams, who served as managing partner for 14 years. Donovan, who has been a member of the firm’s executive committee for nine years, was elected by the firm’s partners. However, he said, Williams had put him forward as a possible replacement about a year ago, and has been preparing for that transition to take place since then.

“Our firm is a diverse firm that handles both local practices throughout the state of Delaware as well as national practices. My goal is to continue what we’ve been doing for many, many years,” Donovan said in an interview Monday.

However, he noted, that does not mean he is averse to change as a new firm leader, particularly as the legal market becomes more competitive.

“I’ve been practicing 20, 25 years, and the norm is for lawyers and law firms to move cautiously and deliberately,” Donovan said. “I don’t think we’ll stop moving deliberately, but we have to recognize that we may need to move a little more quickly to keep up with the ever-changing environment.”

Williams will resume his employment and education law practice, the firm said, focusing on representation of employers in litigation, administrative proceedings, arbitration and collective bargaining, while also counseling educational institutions on a variety of issues.

Donovan said he sees Morris James as a leader in the Delaware legal market, but the firm has faced the same headwinds as others across the country. Balancing the firm’s local and national practices is the greatest challenge, he said, but it also creates an opportunity to stand out.

Donovan said he plans to grow Morris James, but “smartly” and not too quickly.

“Sometimes being a little more nimble, being able to react a little faster, puts a law firm in a better position to succeed,” he said. “If we grow, it will be strategic.”

And while he has no specific practice areas in mind to grow or refocus, he said he plans to re-evaluate periodically “then try to be prepared to be ahead of the market if not reacting to the market.”

Donovan started his career in insurance litigation, representing both insurance companies and insureds. In 2002 he began representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases, and he now works exclusively for plaintiffs in injury and insurance cases.