Alexander Sandy Thomas
Alexander Sandy Thomas (Dupont Photographers)

Reed Smith’s Alexander Y. “Sandy” Thomas, who was tapped to lead the firm last October when longtime managing partner Gregory B. Jordan left for PNC, has been elected by the partnership as the firm’s global managing partner.

Thomas, who is based in Washington, D.C., is set to begin his official three-year term Aug. 1. His election was not a foregone conclusion as he was challenged by Philadelphia-based partner John D. Martini, the vice chairman of the firm’s global business and finance department and chairman of the firm’s global executive compensation and employee benefits practice.

The firm would not disclose the breakdown of the vote, which occurred over the course of the week last week. A call to Martini’s office was referred back to the firm’s chief marketing officer.

“I am deeply honored to be elected by my partners,” Thomas said in a statement. “This election fostered an exchange of ideas that was tremendously valuable to our firm, and also confirmed that we are focused on and united under a common goal to provide the highest level of service and value to our clients. We will now move forward together, as we have always done, to meet the needs of our clients around the world, and remain dedicated to the quality and experience that has made Reed Smith one of the world’s elite law firms.”

Thomas, the former chair of Reed Smith’s firmwide litigation department, was selected by the executive committee as global managing partner in October 2013, when Jordan left the firm to become executive vice president and general counsel of PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

Word of the contested election between Thomas and Martini first broke last month when London-based Legal Week reported some partners were surprised that Thomas was being challenged. A source familiar with the vote told The Legal that the vote wasn’t close, with Thomas clearly defeating Martini.

Thomas said in an interview Wednesday that the contested election made for a “healthy” and “collaborative” discussion about the firm’s growth and success.

“I would say that there were some tactical differences, but quite a lot of consensus, on the right direction of the firm,” Thomas said. “I’m not trying to minimize a really thorough and rich discussion but I think there was general consensus on our success and the reasons for our success on how we approach clients and our geographical reach.”

Thomas summed up the differences between his and Martini’s viewpoints as “differences in opinion and approach about the overall marketing strategy of the firm.”

He said there was no disagreement on whether the firm should continue to grow in existing and new markets, but rather more so on how the firm expresses its objectives publicly. Thomas said what is good for some practices and markets in terms of marketing and brand-building may not be the right approach for other practices.

“If there was any daylight between the candidates it was how we can best go about getting as much out of our marketing and brand-building efforts as possible in a way that acknowledges the diversity of our firm,” Thomas said.

Martini and Thomas spent the past month-and-a-half conducting four town hall-style meetings for the partners across the firm’s time zones. Thomas said those discussions were dominated by questions from the partners to the candidates.

When he was named by the executive committee to the role in October, Thomas said he was focused on running the firm efficiently to meet client needs, ensuring lawyers and staff were familiar with pricing and project management, and continued growth for the firm in existing locations as well as into areas such as Australia and Canada. All of that still holds true, Thomas said Wednesday.

“On the efficiency point, I just think that is the imperative for large law firms today, and that is to be able to deliver legal services as efficiently as possible,” Thomas said, noting he has met with clients for the past few months and they continue to push for leaner teams on their matters.

Thomas said the firm also still expects to grow, but will be very deliberate in its approach and rigorous in its due diligence before expanding into new markets.

leadership challenges

Martini’s run isn’t the first time a Reed Smith leader faced a potential challenger. In advance of the 2009 election at the firm, Philadelphia-based labor and employment partner John DiNome circulated a memo to the partnership announcing he would challenge Jordan in that year’s September race.

DiNome, at the time, called for a more independent executive committee and said a lack of checks and balances was leading to “exorbitant capital expenditures.” He had said the firm was overpaying its managers and called for a greater use of alternative fee arrangements, according to media reports at the time. But the challenge was short-lived, with DiNome announcing a week later that he would not go up against Jordan, leaving the election uncontested.

The last contested election before that was Jordan’s first election when Philadelphia-based partner John F. Smith III ran against Jordan.

While Jordan’s move to PNC was a surprise to some given he was one year in to another three-year term at Reed Smith’s helm, Jordan said back in October that no one would have been surprised Thomas was the person Jordan suggested as his successor.

“People knew that’s how I felt,” Jordan had said.

The 16 voting members of the firm’s executive committee, with the exception of Jordan, unanimously voted to name Thomas as the new global managing partner, Jordan had said.

Ajay Raju, who left Reed Smith earlier this year to serve as CEO of Dilworth Paxson, worked closely for years with both Thomas and Martini. Of the election, Raju said it was “heads you win, tails you win.”

“Sandy received the baton … from Greg Jordan with a significant lead—a global firm with the deepest load of young rainmakers with a lot of runway left before they hit their prime,” Raju said, noting the firm is in “all of the right markets” and has a “top global platform.”

“John is one of the largest rainmakers and will continue to contribute with his massive book and elastic mind, and Sandy, with all of his leadership experience, is ready to take on the platform and lead,” Raju said.

A 1993 graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law, Thomas joined Reed Smith in 1999 as part of that firm’s combination with Hazel & Thomas.

Before assuming leadership of the firm’s 850-member firmwide litigation department, Thomas was vice chairman of commercial litigation, practice group leader of U.S. eastern commercial litigation, and was twice elected by the partnership to serve on the firm’s executive committee.

He is a commercial litigator with experience in antitrust and competition, global regulatory enforcement, commercial compliance matters, and competition-related disputes. Before entering private practice, he was a trial attorney in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as special assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division.

Reed Smith currently has more than 1,900 lawyers spread across 25 markets.

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