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After nearly 20 years spent in-house at various General Electric Co. subsidiaries, corporate lawyer Joe Lincoln is returning to private practice in Philadelphia at Reed Smith.

Lincoln left Pepper Hamilton in 1995 to serve as general counsel of GE Capital Modular Space, a division of General Electric then based in Pennsylvania. That entity combined with GE Capital’s Transport International Pool, for which Lincoln continued to run the legal department until the unit was sold.

Lincoln’s work for GE led him to Connecticut, where for years he had an apartment in the state while maintaining his home in Philadelphia, where his wife and kids lived. Webcams allowed him to read to his twins each night as he led international expansion for other GE subsidiaries by day.

In 2002, Lincoln became associate general counsel of GE Equipment Services, and then in 2005, took on the role as senior counsel for GE Capital, the financial business arm of GE. As senior counsel for strategic transactions and relations, Lincoln put his skills from private practice as a corporate generalist to work, handling a variety of matters for the company.

“I was involved in a number of complex joint ventures,” Lincoln said. “I was involved in the dispositions of companies and reshaping of our relationships with some joint ventures we were in. I also had supervision of some portfolios of international debt and equity holdings within GE Capital and was involved in a variety of corporate governance issues.”

Lincoln said he reported to a variety of attorneys over the years. GE Capital has its own general counsel who also reports to the GE Capital board. While Lincoln couldn’t place a number on the attorneys in the legal department, he said it was “large and worldwide in scope.”

So, too, were the deals he oversaw, which led Lincoln to look for a law firm that could match that scope.

“My experience in GE Capital involved transactions and joint ventures not merely in the U.S., but also internationally, including one that literally spanned the globe. I’ve seen those types of things and having now built relationships with people [across the world], it seemed Reed Smith made” sense as the next step in his career, Lincoln said.
He said he wanted to return to Philadelphia, but to a firm with offices around the world.

Lincoln and some of his new colleagues at Reed Smith are calling his addition as counsel to the firm’s financial industry group a homecoming even though he has never worked at the firm before. That is because Lisa D. Kabnick, chair of the firm’s global financial transactions, and bank finance partner James S. Lawlor were associates at Pepper Hamilton in the 1980s when Lincoln was a partner in the firm just down the hall from them. In 2003, years after Lincoln was in-house, Kabnick and Lawlor left Pepper Hamilton to join Reed Smith.

Kabnick said Lincoln is “going to be a great addition to Reed Smith because he’s a great lawyer.”

“He’s just very, very smart. One of the smartest lawyers each of us has ever worked with,” Kabnick said of she and Lawlor. Lawlor said Lincoln was part of the last generation of business lawyers who did everything before practice management and practice niches took hold in the 1990s, around the time Lincoln left time sheets behind for the world of in-house counsel.

Lincoln is also familiar with Philadelphia office managing partner Leonard Bernstein from their work chairing, albeit a few years apart, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s business law section.

In a note to the firm last week announcing Lincoln’s arrival, Bernstein said Lincoln’s addition will bring a significant flow of work from GE. Bernstein also noted Lincoln’s experience in banking law and equipment finance will benefit other Reed Smith clients. Kabnick said one of the main reasons Lincoln chose Reed Smith was the firm’s existing connections to GE.

Lincoln wouldn’t comment on any client matters that he might handle now that he has returned to private practice.

Lincoln said he became an in-house counsel at just the right time for him.

“It was a period where [outside] counsel was being used more and more in the large corporations as hired guns to come in and do a big transaction and get out,” Lincoln said. “What I’m seeing now with a number of large corporations is that they are really converging on using a relatively small number of firms that do get to see the ongoing relationship, the ongoing development of the business strategy. So we can be outside and do many of the things you did inside that way but do it for a variety of clients.”

Lincoln said the past 18-and-a-half years have taught him a lot about what in-house counsel and business units need.

A discipline on costs is certainly top of mind, but Lincoln noted he wouldn’t have even reached the discussion point on cost if outside counsel didn’t already meet his quality and “speed of responsiveness” standards.

Lincoln also noted the method of communication is much different than it was when he was last in private practice in 1995. There is an increased focus on the overall strategy of a company, and outside counsel should look to be part of a solution rather than just an “issue spotter,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln joined Reed Smith on March 3, the same day Reed Smith moved into a newly renovated space in Three Logan Square, just around the corner from Pepper Hamilton’s offices.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.