More than a decade after leading 10 lawyers from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney to the Philadelphia office of labor and employment boutique Littler Mendelson, Thomas Bender will now lead Littler along with San Diego shareholder Jeremy Roth.
Littler announced earlier this week the leadership change, in which Bender and Roth will take over for outgoing president and managing director Marko Mrkonich effective January 20, 2013. Bender and Roth will each serve as co-presidents and managing directors for an eight-year term. Each brings different skill sets to the job, Bender said, with Roth having helped the firm expand into Latin America and Bender sitting on the firm’s financial committees and holding other leadership positions within Littler.
During Mrkonich’s tenure, Littler doubled in size, growing to more than 900 lawyers with 53 offices in the United States and additional offices in Caracas, Venezuela, and Mexico.
It was the growth of the firm that resulted in the decision to create a two-person leadership team. Both Roth and Bender have sat on the firm’s 19-person board of directors, which was responsible for selecting the firm’s new leaders from a list of names put up by other partners. Roth and Bender, along with the firm’s management committee, will handle the day-to-day operations of the firm.
“During the next eight years, Littler will look to significantly expand its global presence, further strengthen its footing in the domestic market, and continue to lead the charge in innovating new technology-based approaches to client service and case management,” said Garry Mathiason, chairman of the board at Littler, in a statement. “To take advantage of the opportunities faced by firm leadership, Tom and Jeremy together possess the tremendous and unique complementary skills to move us forward. We look forward to a bright future with an expanded capacity to develop new strategies and adapt to changing market conditions.”
Both Bender and Roth have office leadership experience. Bender headed up the Philadelphia office until handing over the reins to Kristine Grady Derewicz in 2010. Since Bender led the group from Buchanan Ingersoll to Littler in March 2001, Littler’s Philadelphia office has grown to 30 attorneys.
While having the firm’s co-leader in Philadelphia could certainly give a higher profile to the office, Bender said Littler has always been good about giving Philadelphia attorneys a say in the relatively short time they’ve been with the firm.
Aside from Bender’s previous role as office managing shareholder, Philadelphia shareholder Marguerite S. Walsh is co-chairwoman of the firm’s competition and trade secrets practice group as well as a member of the management committee. Littler was also one of the first firms to hire a full-time partner focused exclusively on helping clients with e-discovery matters. That partner, Paul Weiner, is based in Philadelphia.
And while its roots are in San Francisco, Littler has focused on being a national firm, with some key administrative professionals spread out across its offices. Mrkonich was based in Minneapolis. Bender pointed out that the firm’s chief information technology officer is in New York and the chief projects officer is based out of Chicago.
Though the firm has lawyers licensed to practice in all but two U.S. states — Delaware and South Dakota — Bender said the firm’s work isn’t done. He said growth targets will more likely be outside of the United States, but will be driven by client need.
In terms of hot practice areas within the labor and employment field, Bender said the firm is definitely seeing an uptick of class action lawsuits as well as a wave of whistleblower claims. Bender started out his practice in 1977 as a labor lawyer, but as employment work began to pick up, he split his time between the two areas. In more recent years, his practice has again focused almost exclusively on traditional labor law.
Come January, most of those client matters will be transitioned to other lawyers in the firm as Bender expects his new role to be a nearly full-time position. He said he does expect to maintain the client relationships to ensure they are still getting the service they need.
While Bender will be focusing his time moving forward on the firm’s management and growth abroad, his ties to Philadelphia run deep. After graduating from the Catholic University of America in 1977, Bender began working with Dilworth Paxson, where he eventually made partner. He left Dilworth for Saul Ewing and then in 1994 moved to Buchanan Ingersoll.
The beauty of Littler, he said, is that the firm’s lawyers can represent clients anywhere in the country regardless of where the lawyers are based.
As he looks ahead to his next career change, Bender admitted this is a challenging time for law firms as clients want the same service at a lower cost. He said Littler has been very creative in that regard for years now, investing a lot of time and money on things that will help save clients money down the line. One such example is hiring an e-discovery counsel, while another is the firm’s knowledge management department, responsible for keeping track of changes in labor and employment law across the country to share with clients on a moment’s notice.
“It moves pretty quickly out there now,” Bender said. “A lot faster than when I started 35 years ago.”
Aside from its office in Philadelphia, Littler also has an 18-lawyer location in Pittsburgh.