Philadelphia-based regional firm Dilworth Paxson has replaced one chief operating officer with two co-COOs, both of whom are practicing lawyers.
The move allows the co-COOs, partners Patrick Northen and Brett Wiltsey, to each continue practicing law while serving in their new leadership roles. They take over for Jim Hennessey, who has been Dilworth Paxson’s COO for eight years.
Northen and Wiltsey have also joined the firm’s senior leadership team for a four-year term. Hennessey, meanwhile, will finish out 2018 on the senior leadership team, then return to his litigation practice full-time. The firm announced the change Monday, but it has been in the works for well over a year.
“What was important to me was that we retained leadership with experience and credibility with the partnership, as well as fresh legs,” firm CEO Ajay Raju said.
Wiltsey said he has worked closely with Hennessey to prepare for the transition.
“It was a little more strategic than some firms may be because the terms of our offices are four-year terms,” Wiltsey said.
Northen, a litigator, started at the firm as a summer associate in 1994, and immediately joined after earning his law degree. He became Dilworth Paxson’s general counsel four years ago. As part of the leadership change, the general counsel functions will now fall under the co-COO role.
“In a firm of our size, we don’t have a need for anything near a full-time general counsel,” Northen said.
Wiltsey joined the firm’s Cherry Hill, New Jersey, office in 2007, when he was an associate. He became a partner in 2010, and an equity partner and executive committee member in 2012. He now splits his time between Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, he said.
How the co-COOs split their responsibilities will be determined case-by-case, they said. But both lawyers were both “adamant” about being able to continue their practices, Northen said. Raju noted that the firm did away with the managing partner role several years ago, and the COO job is comparable to that in some ways.
Northen, Raju said, is “probably among the most respected of our next generation of lawyers.” And Wiltsey, he said, is ” just one of those people for whom leadership is not something he picks up by reading a book. He’s born with it.”
That has involved some change over time, Raju said, comparing the firm’s approach to strategy as “Waze”—a mobile navigation app that changes routes depending on traffic and other factors—versus a standard GPS device or map.
“What Brett and Pat have inherited is organized chaos,” Raju said. “How we get there can mutate and change depending on the data we get from clients, industries, peer group, shareholders and employees.”