Five months after merging his firm into Pepper Hamilton, former FBI director and judge Louis J. Freeh has been named as the firm’s next chairman.
Freeh will be taking over for Nina M. Gussack, who served as chairwoman of Pepper Hamilton’s executive committee for the past six years.
Gussack will continue her full-time practice and role as head of the firm’s health effects litigation practice. The transition is set to take place later this month.
Freeh’s ascension to head of the firm is the latest in a line of leadership changes that Pepper Hamilton has said have been instituted in an effort to make the firm’s management more in line with how its corporate clients operate.
About a year ago, Pepper Hamilton hired nonlawyer Scott Green to serve in the firm’s newly created role of chief executive officer. That position reports to the chairman of the executive committee, the position Freeh is preparing to take.
The role of executive partner, previously held for a decade by Robert Heideck, was molded into a managing partner role and turned over to labor and employment partner Thomas J. Cole Jr. last month.
Along with Freeh’s new role, Pepper Hamilton’s executive committee has now elected two vice chairs of the firm.
Julia D. Corelli, a corporate and securities lawyer and co-chairwoman of the firm’s commercial department, will serve as vice chairwoman along with Thomas M. Gallagher, chairman of the firm’s white-collar litigation and investigations practice group. The firm did not have vice chairs of the executive committee in 2012. In 2011, Cole served as the sole vice chairman. Prior to that, George Lehner served in the position.
Freeh and Green are both based in Pepper Hamilton’s New York office. Cole, Corelli and Gallagher are all based in the firm’s Philadelphia office.
Gussack’s second three-year term as chairwoman of the executive committee was coming to an end this month. The firm technically limits the role to two terms, but Gussack said there was some willingness to let her continue on in the role. But Gussack said she informed leadership that she wasn’t looking to take another term.
"It’s really critical that we continue our efforts of succession planning in all dimensions of the firm and this opportunity just presented a wonderful and natural next step," Gussack said of Freeh’s joining the firm. She noted Freeh has a lot of experience running complex organizations.
Freeh said it wasn’t planned at the time his firm joined that he would be the next chairman. He said that role was going to turn over this month whether or not his firm merged with Pepper Hamilton.
Freeh said he expects to continue a very active practice, saying the new leadership structure will support that goal. Freeh is also intent on expanding the firm’s white-collar and corporate investigations practice, particularly in Washington and New York. Freeh said he will also be taking his experience as a former general counsel, judge, the head of the FBI, prosecutor and private practitioner to focus his practice on arbitrations, court-appointed monitorships and mediations.
In terms of goals for the firm, Freeh said the focus will be on expanding Pepper Hamilton’s relatively new offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco and growing in Washington and New York.
As CEO, Green will continue his day-to-day management of the firm and set business targets for it to hit. Cole will be assisting in those efforts. Green reports to the executive committee, which is charged with setting the policy for Pepper Hamilton, Gussack said. She said the vice chairs provide the full background and support Freeh will need to oversee those efforts. She said Freeh is uniquely positioned to have a broad external profile for the firm while overseeing a legal practice as well.
Gussack was the only woman currently leading an Am Law 100 or 200 firm in Pennsylvania and was one of just 13 women mentioned as firm leaders among the 93 Am Law firms that participated in a recent survey by Legal affiliate The American Lawyer on women in large-firm leadership positions.
Gussack said one of her clients joked with her this week that, by giving up the chairwoman position, she will now have the midnight to 1 a.m. slot freed up. Gussack, one of the biggest rainmakers in the city, maintained her practice representing pharmaceutical and medical device companies as well as her leadership role of the health effects litigation group while serving as chairwoman of the executive committee. She said the health effects group is anxious to have her full attention.
Under Gussack and Green’s leadership, Pepper Hamilton had a strong financial performance in 2012.
The firm saw gross revenue rise 9.2 percent from $324.5 million in 2011 to $354.5 million in 2012 while headcount only grew 5.1 percent from 469 attorneys to 493 lawyers. The firm’s revenue per lawyer increased 4.3 percent to $720,000 and its profits per equity partner jumped 10.5 percent to $845,000.
Gussack said those numbers represent growth in some of the firm’s significant practice groups, including corporate, health effects litigation and intellectual property.
Background Check on Freeh
On September 1, 2012, Freeh merged his law firm, Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, into Pepper Hamilton. Freeh’s consulting group, Freeh Group International Solutions, also merged into Pepper Hamilton. The two law firms got to know one another through their joint work conducting an internal investigation on Penn State’s behalf into the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
Freeh graduated from Rutgers College in 1971, Rutgers School of Law in 1974 and New York University School of Law in 1984 with a master’s in law. Freeh joined the FBI as a special agent in 1975, and was assigned to the New York City Field Division, and later at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
In 1981, Freeh joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as an assistant U.S. attorney, later serving as associate and deputy U.S. attorney. In 1991, Freeh was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as a U.S. district court judge for the Southern District of New York.
In 1993, President William J. Clinton appointed Freeh as the fifth director of the FBI. In 2001, Freeh joined MBNA America Bank in Delaware as vice chairman and general counsel. He started his law and consulting firms in 2007. The firms had offices in Wilmington, Del., Washington, D.C., and New York.