John Duke of Hogan Lovells.

Hogan Lovells started small in Philadelphia, with two lawyers in 2010, but it has grown to more than two dozen lawyers through a number of associate and lateral partner hires. Among them was corporate partner John Duke, who joined the firm in 2016 from Pepper Hamilton, and is now the Philadelphia office managing partner.

Duke, who took on the role Jan. 1, is taking over for white-collar defense partner Virginia “Ginny” Gibson, who has led the office since 2016. Gibson, a former federal prosecutor, will continue to practice within the firm’s litigation group.

The Legal caught up with Duke as he takes on this new role to talk Philadelphia strategy, and why non-Pennsylvania-based firms are taking an interest in the market. (Duke’s answers have been edited lightly for length.)

How were you chosen as the Philadelphia office’s new leader, and when? 

We had some discussions toward the end of 2018 talking about it. Ginny Gibson has significant responsibilities within the white-collar group. She’s trying to put more of her efforts toward managing the white-collar role.

She did a great job managing us through a tremendous growth period. The office started here as a presence 20 years ago with two lawyers … it’s now approaching 30 lawyers. We moved and took on new space in July of 2017, so it’s really poised us and positioned us to grow.

What has been the driving force behind that growth?

The four core practices in Philadelphia are corporate, litigation, white-collar and medical device law. We’ve been hiring more junior lawyers and also lateral associates. The focus has really been in the life sciences space.

In terms of what we’re looking for from a growth perspective, we’re looking for practitioners that fit well with the industry focuses of the firm [which has 11 industry groups] … and the core strengths of the firm. We’re not looking for folks to fit right into what the Philadelphia practitioners are doing, but what the firm is doing. We look for needs of the firm, not necessarily by geography but needs that would serve clients well.

How did you and Ginny go about transitioning the role?

We had a number of meetings, both Ginny and I but also other folks in management … for me to get a good understanding of what her role and responsibilities have been and how I can take those over, and also looking at the direction of the office and needs of the office.

It’s not like she’s gone anywhere … it’s been very good in terms of being able to do that in a pretty seamless fashion. It is a very close-knit office, so there is a lot of communication among all the lawyers here on a regular basis.

What are your thoughts on where the office has gone under Ginny’s leadership?

The growth was tremendous. When Ginny took over, I don’t know if there were more than eight lawyers in the office, which is a very small office, and then she shepherded it through this period of growth, which is not easy. Making sure the integration is happening … was really tireless on her part.

It wasn’t as if it was going from seven or eight to 25 or 30 in one fell swoop … it was really more one by one, which is a challenge to manage. It also involved finding space that would fit as we grew, and in the future.

Where are you hoping to take the office from here?

We’re certainly not looking for growth for the sake of growth… I don’t think we’ll ever be 100 lawyers, but we may not always be 25 or 30.

We are very careful in how we look at potential laterals, because we want to make sure the laterals we bring in are going to be successful. … We are certainly open to strong practitioners in any area that fits the firm.

It seems like more out-of-state firms are taking an interest in Philadelphia recently. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s a testament to how attractive the Philadelphia legal market is. It is an attractive legal market in part because the economy here is fairly steady. It doesn’t have deep ups and downs so it’s generally a stable legal economy.

The challenge, if you will, in Philadelphia historically is that there are a number of lawyers here … but the competition for work here is not limited to lawyers who are here. You’re competing with lawyers from markets like New York and Boston on a regular basis.

How does Philadelphia fit into Hogan Lovells’ greater strategy as a global firm?

First and foremost from an industry perspective, life sciences … is a very key focus for the firm. It’s one of the larger industry groups that the firm has.

Whether it’s newly public companies that are developing a single drug, more mature life sciences companies in the area, companies that are being spun out of hospital research and things like that, [Philadelphia] is a very strong area for that.

There’s also a lot of mature, other types of businesses here. It’s a fairly strong economic environment … it has a good balance of businesses that require the kinds of services that Hogan Lovells can provide.

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