Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin is making a change in leadership, as the firm’s longtime president and CEO, Thomas Brophy, steps down from the post.
Brophy left his management roles as of Jan. 1. Executive committee member G. Mark Thompson has taken his place as president and CEO of the 500-lawyer firm.
Brophy had been CEO since 2005, and has served the firm in some management capacity since 1986. He is now 65, the age when Marshall Dennehey requires partners to give up their ownership interest, he said. Now taking the role of president emeritus, Brophy said he expects to spend the next 60 days transitioning his leadership responsibilities, and the next 18 months or so moving his clients to other lawyers at the firm.
Brophy started as a paralegal at Marshall Dennehey in 1979, attending classes at night until he earned his law degree in 1982. In his 13 years at the helm, Marshall Dennehey added four offices and 150 lawyers, while also facing the challenges of the 2008 financial crisis.
Thompson joined Marshall Dennehey in 2001 as a lateral partner and leader of the firm’s Orlando office. He and Brophy met through their mutual client, Anheuser-Busch. He later became the regional managing attorney of the firm’s four Florida offices, then in 2015, he relocated to Philadelphia to oversee all 19 of Marshall Dennehey’s regional offices.
Thompson is the first CEO of the firm who is not originally from its Philadelphia headquarters. About two-thirds of the firm works in regional offices, he said, so his knowledge of their operations complements the other executive committee members’ institutional knowledge from working in the firm’s headquarters.
“A person coming in from the outside brings a different perspective,” Brophy said. “It says to people working outside Philadelphia, ‘there’s a place for you here.’”
Brophy said the firm leadership chose Thompson as the likely next CEO a few years ago. Typically, he said, senior management identifies the people who would do well in senior management roles, then vets them through other firm leaders.
Also joining Marshall Dennehey’s top leadership ranks are Christopher Dougherty, who is now chairman of the three-person executive committee, and Howard Dwoskin, who is taking Brophy’s place on the executive committee. Eric Fitzgerald is joining the firm’s board of directors, taking Brophy’s place on that leadership body. In addition to their new roles, Dougherty chairs the board of directors and is director of the professional liability department, Dwoskin is director of the casualty department and Fitzgerald is assistant director of the professional liability department.
During his years as CEO, Brophy said, the financial crisis had the greatest impact on the business of law.
“All of a sudden there was a surplus of lawyers and it became a buyers’ market,” he said. Clients “got more aggressive in what they were looking for” from their law firms.
Clients are less motivated to maintain relationships with their legacy roster of law firms, he said, creating greater competition in the market. And with advances in technology, the expectations for quick turnaround and accessibility have risen.
As the market has changed, Brophy said, Marshall Dennehey has continued to expand geographically, but aimed to remain “specialized.” The firm has traditionally been known for its insurance work and litigation defense, he said, and has stayed focused on litigation, while also providing related consulting services.
“We embraced who we were and became a very large boutique,” Brophy said.
While the firm added offices and head count, it has more than doubled profits in his 13 years as CEO, Brophy said. He declined to elaborate further, as the firm does not disclose its financial performance to the press.
Thompson said the field of competitors has narrowed in recent years, as clients become more sophisticated. The firm has adapted, he said, working to provide the data and technology clients expect.
“We keep managing to make the cut,” he said. “The level of competition is higher than it’s ever been.”
The firm’s growth under Brophy’s leadership has included its 2014 acquisition of New York insurance defense boutique Jones Hirsch Connors Miller & Bull, and the opening of a Cleveland office that same year. The firm added a white-collar defense practice in 2010.
Without much more room to grow in the Philadelphia legal market, Marshall Dennehey has had to grow elsewhere, Brophy said, but the firm has kept its focus on the East Coast.
“The regional offices are increasingly important,” he said. “We don’t regard them as colonies, and we don’t regard them as profit centers.”
Modernizing, but Staying the Course
Asked about his goals for the firm, Thompson said he wants Marshall Dennehey to continue educating its attorneys on the business of law. He also wants to refine its flexible work arrangement options, increase diversity and work on succession planning with regard to client continuity.
Flexible work arrangements have been a challenge, he said, as the best policy in Philadelphia may not work in a smaller regional office. Young lawyers have come to expect flexible scheduling and telecommuting options, he said, but mentoring and training can prove more challenging without face time.
Dwoskin said two key elements will help the firm succeed in the future: quality work and competitive pricing options. The firm has a committee of statisticians, analysts and lawyers who develop alternative fee arrangements, he said.
“They’re perilous if not done right,” Thompson said. “When a lot of firms have gone awry, they either lacked the resources to measure and analyze their programs, or they don’t invest the time to do that.”
In the near future, Marshall Dennehey has no definite plans to open new offices, Dougherty said. But the firm has recently focused on making services available in markets where it has nearby lawyers, but no physical office, and will continue to do so, he said. For instance, the Erie lawyers recently took the New York bar exam, and the Wilmington, Delaware, and Harrisburg attorneys have taken the Maryland bar exam, so they can serve clients just over the border.
While the firm aims to remain focused on defense litigation or related services, Dougherty said, they are open to expanding the types of related work they do, such as employment consulting and commercial litigation. Marshall Dennehey is also open to mergers, he said.
“We get asked a lot if we’re ever going to become a national firm,” Thompson said. “We’re better serving our clients as a regional firm.”