Ward Bower. (Courtesy photo)
Ward Bower, a straight-shooting yet warm-hearted legal consultant with Altman Weil who spent decades advising law firms around the world on major strategic initiatives, died from a heart attack Sept. 28 at the age of 69.
Bower was a prolific commenter on the legal profession and was often sought out by law firms and journalists alike for his expertise on the business of law. He joined Altman Weil in 1975 when the company was five years old and law firm consulting was in its infancy. Over the next 41 years, Bower built a reputation as a “patient listener, trusted voice and a steady hand” to both the Altman Weil family and the firms he advised, Altman Weil said in a statement announcing Bower’s death.
“Ward was a natural strategist who applied his deep intelligence and unremitting intellectual curiosity to the emerging discipline of the business of law,” Altman Weil said in the statement. “He was one of the foremost thinkers in the profession whose articles were published in every major legal media outlet in the United States.”
Bower was also deeply committed to the success of Altman Weil and the junior consultants coming up behind him. He led Altman Weil’s 2005 strategic alliance with London-based consulting company Jomati Ltd. At the time, both companies had recently assisted clients in what would become a growing trend of mergers between U.S. and U.K. firms. Altman Weil had advised DLA in the DLA Piper Rudnick merger while Jomati had represented Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in its combination with Nicholson Graham & Jones.
Altman Weil principal Tom Clay remembered talking with Bower for hours soon after Bower’s law school graduation. Clay, who at the time was in the venture capital world, told Bower he could always practice law but that this new consulting thing sounded really interesting. Bower took Clay’s advice and a few years later recruited him to Altman Weil.
Of the many things Clay has admired about Bower over their decades-long friendship, Clay said Bower’s “stellar integrity” was at the top of the list. The motto at Altman Weil has always been to tell clients what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear, Clay said. And Bower embodied that, Clay said, but he always did it without alienating people or making them feel bad.
Bower was often invited by Steven Brill, the founder of The American Lawyer magazine, to panel discussions on the business of law. Clay said Bower was never shy about disagreeing with Brill or others if he felt they were off base.
“But he did it in an extraordinarily professional, knowledgeable way,” Clay said.
Bower’s thought leadership and creative thinking when it came to the business of law garnered him a number of accolades, including being named in 2013 to The National Law Journal’s inaugural list of 50 Business of Law Trailblazers & Pioneers for his work on law firm mergers and acquisitions.
Brad Hildebrandt of Hildebrandt Legal Consulting started his practice a few years after Bower joined Altman Weil and the two would often work together, Hildebrandt said.
“We were competitors, but really colleagues,” Hildebrandt said of Bower. “He really made a big mark on the profession.”
Bower espoused ideas of client relationships and business organization when law firms were still typically operating in just one state and couldn’t even advertise, Hildebrandt said.
“That’s where he really made his mark, bringing the idea that a law firm is really a business and it should be run that way,” Hildebrandt said of Bower.
Bower brought to his work a diverse background and set of interests, including a law degree, a military career and a keen interest in reading and the science of baseball.
He was a 1969 graduate of Bucknell University, served as an air defense officer in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1970 to 1971, and received his law degree from the Dickinson School of Law in 1975.
Bower traveled the world, both for work and pleasure, and was always interested in new ideas, Altman Weil said. A devoted fan of baseball, one of Bower’s proudest roles was as captain of the 1969 Bucknell Bisons baseball team, the firm said.
Clay said most people probably wouldn’t know about the time and commitment Bower gave to advancing the profession and business of law.
Bower held multiple leadership roles within the American Bar Association and International Bar Association throughout his career. He was a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the College of Law Practice Management. He served on the Board of Counselors of the Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University.
Bower was a leader in the ABA’s law practice management section and chaired the International Bar Association’s working group on multidisciplinary practices, or MDPs, from 1996 to 2007. In that role, Bower was pulled in many directions in what was a hotly contested debate over whether lawyers should be allowed to share fees with nonlawyers or practice in entities owned in part by nonlawyers, Clay said.
Bower was also on the board of trustees when Dickinson School of Law was contemplating merging with Penn State. Clay said Bower agonized over the decision as friends and colleagues were often on opposing ends of the debate. Ultimately, Clay said, Bower said he had to do what was best for the school and spent countless hours negotiating the deal to merge.
While Bower put serious time and energy into his work, he also knew how to have a good time.
“He liked to have fun,” Clay said, recounting the fishing club the two belonged to—which Clay joked was a euphemism for sitting in a boat and drinking beer.
When Bower wasn’t talking about the law or baseball, he would beam with pride for his family. He is survived by his wife, Linda; sons, Miles, Chase, Reid and Seth; and granddaughters, Eleanor and Sierra.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend Bower’s memorial service at 3 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Main Line Unitarian Church, 816 South Valley Forge Road, Devon, Pennsylvania, 19333.
Contact Gina Passarella at email@example.com. On Twitter: @GPassarellaTLI