Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti, a New Jersey homegrown firm founded in the 19th century that in more recent years has seen some turnover in its partnership ranks, has now appointed new leadership.
It’s the first such leadership change at the Morristown-based firm in about two decades, though each of the new leaders dates back to at least the 1990s, and have been in prominent roles already.
Co-managing partners, as of the new year, are Lance Kalik and Michael O’Donnell, replacing Glenn Clark, who had been managing partner for 22 years and now returns to full-time practice. Kalik co-chairs the firm’s insurance and reinsurance practice, as well as its diversity and alumni relations committees. O’Donnell, a senior litigator and mediator, chairs the practice development committee.
Kelly Crawford and Brian O’Donnell, already executive committee members, are now committee co-chairs. They replace Gerald Liloia, who had been chair for about 20 years. Crawford chairs the products liability, toxic tort and mass tort practice, and co-chairs the technology committee. Brian O’Donnell (no relation to Michael O’Donnell), a senior litigator, chairs the risk management committee and co-chairs the insurance practice with Kalik, and the technology committee with Crawford.
The four attorneys make up the entirety of the executive committee, though there is a broader management committee that includes practice leaders.
“All four of us have been at the firm for more than 20 years” and “have been involved in pretty much every committee in the firm,” Kalik said in an interview.
Michael O’Donnell said splitting the managing partner and executive committee chair roles “works really well because we all communicate with each other.”
“Not only can we split up the duties, we can get each other’s thought processes,” O’Donnell added.
Crawford, also reached by phone, said having women in leadership positions is “important for our attorneys here” and “important for a lot of clients to see.”
“I think that the law in general is a difficult atmosphere for female practitioners,” but client demand for women in leadership positions improves matters, she added.
Crawford and Kalik have been with the firms since 1994; Brian O’Donnell, since 1991; and Michael O’Donnell, since 1989. Three of the four have been at Riker Danzig their entire careers (Brian O’Donnell practiced elsewhere briefly before joining).
Kalik said there are “no specific plans” to add new practices or offices, though he did note a focus on leveraging the firm’s New York-based practice.
“Our main focus is to continue what we’ve done, to focus on our core areas of strength,” said Kalik, including various litigation practices, as well as corporate, real estate and ADR.
Clark, in a statement, said the four “are extremely accomplished lawyers and have been leaders of the firm for some time,” and “have my full support and that of all the partners.”
Liloia, in the statement, called the group “deeply committed to upholding our values and core principles of exceptional service and tireless legal advocacy for our clients.”
The leadership transition follows some significant changes in recent years, chiefly the departure of some members of leadership and senior partners.
In mid-2014, 16 lawyers from Riker Danzig’s tax, trusts and estates, and corporate and general litigation practices left to form Sherman Wells Sylvester & Stamelman in Florham Park. Leading the way were Anthony Sylvester, Julian Wells and Andrew Stamelman, members of Riker Danzig’s executive committee. Later that year, firm co-chair Shawn Kelly led his four-lawyer insurance and reinsurance group to Dentons in Short Hills, and commercial litigation partner Michael Furey, longtime head of the New Jersey Disciplinary Oversight Committee, left for Day Pitney in Parsippany. In mid-2015, Jan Bernstein, head of the family practice, joined Sills Cummis & Gross in Newark.
The departures came amid an overhaul in Riker Danzig’s partner retirement—a years-long process that wrapped up in 2015. The firm’s “nonqualified retirement plans,” which leveraged profitability to pay partner retirement packages, were scaled back with the help of outside consultants, Brian O’Donnell previously told the Law Journal.
Riker Danzig appears to have moved forward during and since that time, however, making new partners, recruiting laterals and maintaining its summer associate program.
As for business, the firm’s gross revenue dipped below the $70 million-mark in fiscal 2014 and 2015, after cresting above $80 million a few years earlier, but climbed about 5 percent, to $70.5 million, in 2016, according to Law Journal data. And its attorney head count increased to 146 in 2016 after hitting 130 in 2014.
“We’re still the same firm we’ve always been,” Michael O’Donnell said. “We still stayed the course. … We’ve been doing well.”
Riker Danzig, founded in 1882 as Riker & Riker of Newark, counts former state attorneys general in its name, and Johnson & Johnson and Fidelity National Financial among its clients.
“I think we are in a great spot from a competitive standpoint,” Kalik said.