With five people stepping in to take over the roles of one of its retiring executive committee members, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin is continuing its leadership transition with the goal of better aligning its management with the needs of a firm that has grown significantly in the past decade.
Long known as an insurance defense firm—a specialization the firm continues to pride itself on—Marshall Dennehey has grown to a 500-lawyer shop with attorneys across a variety of practice areas and throughout an expanding geographic footprint.
So when longtime partner and executive committee member Peter S. Miller announced his intentions a few years back to retire at age 64, the firm started thinking about how to replace the man who, until Monday, was the chief operating officer, director of the workers’ compensation department, managing attorney of the Philadelphia office, a member of the executive committee and immediate past chairman of the board of directors.
Marshall Dennehey has a three-person executive committee that handles a lot of the day-to-day management decisions of the firm and is also a part of its nine-person board of directors. Miller, firm President and CEO Thomas Brophy and Philip Toran sat on the executive committee for about a decade. The expectation was for Miller to step down first, having announced his retirement plans several years ago. But when Toran became ill last year and had to retire from the firm earlier than expected, his successor was picked first. As Toran’s second-in-command of the professional liability department Toran built, Christopher Dougherty took over the department and took Toran’s seat on the executive committee. Brophy took over Toran’s role as chairman of the committee.
Miller agreed to delay his retirement for six months and officially stepped down Monday. With his departure, Dougherty took over as chairman of the board of directors back in January; IT Director Liz Brown took over as chief operating officer of the firm, becoming the first nonlawyer to take on the role; Niki Ingram, who served as assistant director of the workers’ compensation department, took over as director of the department; Butler Buchanan, the hiring partner and chair of the firm’s diversity committee, became managing attorney of the Philadelphia office; and Mark Thompson, a board member and managing attorney of all of the firm’s Florida offices, took the third seat on the executive committee with Brophy and Dougherty.
With more of the firm’s attorneys now in satellite offices than its Philadelphia headquarters, the role of overseeing all of the managing partners was a growing task. Brophy said the fact that Thompson has overseen the firm’s four Florida offices made him a natural choice to oversee all of the managing partners. But it is also important to Marshall Dennehey to have its leadership centralized in Philadelphia, Brophy said.
Thompson has agreed to move to Philadelphia next year.
Brophy, who joined the executive committee 10 years ago when the firm was around 345 lawyers, said the decision to put more people into management roles will help the firm as it continues to grow. Brophy tried his last case four or five years ago and much of the senior management has focused on managing rather than practicing law, he said. Brophy said the firm has chosen to invest in management positions to be quicker and more responsive as it gets larger.
Dougherty said part of splicing out Miller’s roles was to address the changes that were happening in the defense industry. He said the insurance industry is increasingly constricting the panel of outside law firms it uses.
“You are left with a group of 10 firms competing for work … Pete was so efficient. He did things intuitively because he was here so long, but to compete we have to carve out some roles so the delivery of legal services is handled by attorneys,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty will assume oversight of the firm’s litigation services, paralegals and training functions. He said Buchanan has instant credibility when it comes to running the Philadelphia office because of his roles on other committees. And with Thompson taking over management of all of the managing attorneys, that left a specific subset of duties for Brown to handle as the COO.
Dougherty said Brown would oversee human resources, billing and accounting, finance, marketing and information technology.
“She has proven by virtue of managing the IT department for 20 years that she is really good at what she does,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said insurance companies are increasingly sophisticated when it comes to using metrics to track firm performance. He said the firm has to be attentive to that data-driven philosophy and use technology and fee structures to price the firm’s work so that it can retain that work. He said Brown, given her IT background, would be a big help in that process.
Brophy said he planned to maintain his management roles for at least a few more years.
“I see us being a regional firm with some national practices,” Brophy said of Marshall Dennehey’s growth strategy.
He said people too often refer to the firm with what he described as the “limiting” descriptor of insurance defense. He said Marshall Dennehey handles a variety of litigation, including legal malpractice, work for car manufacturers, securities litigation, aviation and maritime law. The firm is split into four departments—health care, casualty, professional liability and workers’ compensation.
Marshall Dennehey currently has 20 offices spread throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Ohio and Florida. Marshall Dennehey added a third office in New York state at the end of June when some of the 25 lawyers who joined Monday from Jones Hirsch helped launch a Westchester location.
Brophy said Marshall Dennehey would continue to focus its expansion along the Eastern Seaboard. He said the firm’s Florida lawyers would like to see it move north up the coast, and that could be a possibility.
Brophy said the firm’s culture has long been built on trust of its leadership, stemming from the days when Robert Coleman ran the firm. He said he was excited for this next wave of leadership to help take the firm through the next decade or more.
Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI. •