CHOATE, HALL
& STEWART

BOSTON

 #278


Its former local peers have expanded across the nation, and the globe, but Boston-based Choate, Hall & Stewart continues to thrive by sticking to its knitting.

At the one-office Choate Hall, the focus is on perfecting core practice areas instead of expanding the firm’s footprint.

“We’re doing something very different than our competitors,” said co-managing partner John Nadas. “We are all under one roof.”

The 142-lawyer Choate Hall competes with national and global rivals by staying focused on a relatively small number of core practice areas, Nadas said.

These include private equity, mergers and acquisitions, finance, bankruptcy and restructuring, wealth management and representing technology companies, Nadas said. Only a “few areas of complex litigation,” like intellectual property, are on that list, and insurance/reinsurance is another strong area, he said.

“It’s about a half-dozen areas where we’re particularly focused and I think particularly good,” Nadas said. “The clients are responding very nicely.”

Those clients include Riverside Partners and Summit Partners (private-equity work); Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. (restructuring work); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (intellectual property); Shire and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (intellectual property); Hewlett-Packard Co. (complex litigation); Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. (intellectual property and related litigation); and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and The Travelers Cos. Inc. (insurance and reinsurance work).

Nadas points to the firm’s financials as a reflection of its success, with the numbers it has reported for 2011 besting its 2010 numbers on the 2011 Am Law 200 — American Lawyer‘s list ranking the nation’s law firms from 101 to 200 based on gross revenue.

In order to “succeed in our strategy, it’s important that we be quite profitable,” Nadas said. “These numbers show we’re executing quite nicely.”

19TH-CENTURY ROOTS

The firm’s roots stretch back to 1899, but the firm’s modern era started about a dozen years ago, when other major Boston firms were starting to morph into megafirms. After a strategic planning process that lasted more than a year, the firm set its current course, Nadas said.

“It’s not the only way to do it, but it’s a good way to [run a law firm] if you execute it right,” Nadas said. “Execution is important.”

Choate Hall also recently added a feather to its cap when former Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall rejoined the firm as a senior counsel in January. Marshall retired from the bench in December, four years before the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70, because her husband has Parkinson’s disease.

The firm has stuck to what it does best in the years since the strategic plan, agreed Jeff Coburn of Boston’s Coburn Consulting.

“It’s not an easy model,” and the firm has to stick to it, Coburn said. “It’s tempting to take on new areas.”

A CORPORATE FOCUS

Ultimately, Choate is heavily driven by corporate work that generates work in the other key areas, such as health care, Coburn said.

“They’re not a litigation powerhouse,” Coburn said. “They’re a corporate firm.”

Choate also charges a little less on average than what Am Law 100 firms charge in its key practice areas, but the quality of the work is stellar, Coburn said.

When Choate finalized that strategic plan, it “really made a point of saying [internally]: We have to be tougher about our standards and raise the bar,” Coburn said. “They really had the management wherewithal to do that and honor that value.”

The lower headcount, one-office approach also means clients will have an easier time reaching a partner, Coburn said. “It’s a value equation for any company,” Coburn said.

Choate “competes very favorably with the large firms” because it knows its marketplace identity and strategy and it follows its strategy, said Paul Clifford, a principal at Law Practice Consultants LLC in West Newton, Mass.

“They’re one of the examples of a firm that wrestles above its class and punches above its weight,” Clifford said.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.