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June 3, 2010 9:00 AM

Baker & McKenzie Taps São Paulo Partner as Next Firm Chair

Posted by Ross Todd

Leite1 Baker & McKenzie has elected São Paulo partner Eduardo Leite the next chairman of the firm's eight-person executive committee. Leite, pictured right, has served as managing partner of the firm's four offices in Brazil since 2003. He heads the firm's global energy, mining, and infrastructure practice group.

"Given our brand, our people and our clients expect our leadership to be global," says current chairman John Conroy, Jr., "There's some additional excitement because we've never had a chair out of Latin America," he says.

Leite will succeed Conroy on October 30, at the conclusion of the firm's annual meeting in Chicago. In a statement, Leite said he is fortunate to assume the leadership of the firm--one of 4,000 lawyers in 39 countries around the world--at a time when it "is financially strong and competitively well positioned. Our unparalleled global platform of offices, practices, and expertise makes us a natural match for the business and legal needs of companies in all sectors at a time when global economies are increasingly interdependent."

As reported in the May edition of The American Lawyer, last year marked the first time since 1994 that Baker & McKenzie edged past Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for the top spot on the annual Am Law 100 ranking of the top-grossing law firms in the U.S. Gross revenue for the firm in 2009 was $2.1 billion, a drop of 3.5 percent from 2008. Remarking on the firm's financial performance, Conroy told the magazine that the firm's global footprint helped to lessen any big declines in the U.S. and U.K. legal markets. The recession didn't seem to touch Baker & McKenzie's Brazilian offices at all, Conroy said.

Leite will serve a four-year term. According to Conroy, Baker & McKenzie recently added a year to the chairman's term. (Conroy currently is serving out the second of two consecutive three-year terms. His predecessor, French finance minister Christine Lagarde, served one three-year term followed by two one-year extensions.)

Conroy and Leite served together on the firm's executive committee from 1999 to 2003, and both have done stints as part of Baker & McKenzie's management--Conroy has served as the firm's North American managing partner, and Leite previously led the firm's Latin America operations.

"We can, frankly, many times very nearly complete each other's sentences. I can't keep up with him when he speaks Portuguese though," Conroy says.

Asked which trait will serve Leite best in his new role, Conroy says, "His humanity."

"We're a partnership structure and your ability to lead is based on your ability to influence," Conroy says. "The ability to influence requires someone with strong emotional intelligence who can empathize effectively."

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