Labaton Sucharow, a top plaintiffs firm in the securities and antitrust class action world, has completed a leadership transition to install New York-based securities litigation partner Christopher Keller as the sole chairman after about a year of co-chairing the firm alongside name partner Lawrence Sucharow.
Sucharow stepped into a chairman emeritus role effective Jan 1. and will remain on the firm’s executive committee in a non-voting role. That change comes for Sucharow after more than 40 years at Labaton and more than 20 years in top leadership roles as managing partner and chairman or co-chair. The firm’s other namesake, Edward Labaton, remains a partner.
Keller, meanwhile, has spent nearly 20 years at Labaton after joining the firm in 2000. While he has served as co-chair since late 2017, that was not his first leadership position at the firm. Starting in 2003, Keller led the firm’s case development group that evaluates potential legal claims for Labaton’s institutional investor clients.
Sucharow said that as he takes a step back from day-to-day management, he believes Labaton will be in good hands with Keller at the helm. The two lawyers have been working closely together for nearly 20 years and have similar approaches to practicing law and leadership, Sucharow said, explaining that Keller served as his associate before making partner.
“Chris brought that same type of energy to the law,” Sucharow said. “We fit very well together. For me, he had a lot of the attributes that I would have been looking for in a successor.”
Sucharow also noted that Labaton has been planning a leadership transition for several years. Elevating Keller in December 2017 to a co-chair role was part of the succession plan, allowing him to work continue working closely with Sucharow before taking the reins on his own.
The gradual transition also had the benefits of signaling to the firm’s clients and staff members that, while a change was coming, it wouldn’t cause any major disruptions, Sucharow said. He also noted that law firm succession is particularly tricky when the founders are handing the leadership to a younger generation for the first time, and Labaton wanted to avoid the pitfalls that some firms experience during such a transition.
“What usually happens in an entrepreneurial firm is that the leader, the builder, the founder doesn’t know enough to get out of the way,” Sucharow said. “Without planning for it, it can work out to be problematic.”
Under Sucharow’s leadership, Labaton has cemented its place among the country’s top securities class action firms. Labaton also handles antitrust cases and, starting in 2011, has housed an ever-expanding whistleblower practice led by partner Jordan Thomas, a former Securities and Exchange Commission official.
For his part, Keller said in an interview that he intends to follow Sucharow’s example, saying the longtime firm leader put Labaton on solid footing that positions it well for future years. He also stressed that the transition has been seamless in large part because Sucharow has worked so closely with Keller for years一they’ve collaborated on most of the key decisions that have shaped the firm’s recent trajectory.
“Larry has had a very egalitarian approach to management and leadership,” Keller said.
Beyond ensuring a smooth leadership change, Keller said he plans to maintain a forward-looking approach that also served the firm well under Sucharow. He explained that Labaton has taken pains to make itself adaptable so it can both react to and predict changes as they emerge in securities litigation and in the investment markets at the heart of those cases. In the near term that could mean looking out for a potential recession after a long run of bull markets, while also looking for opportunities to pursue individual cases for institutional investors in addition to class actions.
“The expectation is that we will continue to meet the challenges of a new marketplace,” Keller said. “[Larry] and I are both visionaries in the sense that we like to see what’s coming, we like to anticipate where the market is headed.”