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November 22, 2010 3:05 PM

Wilmer Announces Leadership Succession Plan

Posted by Drew Combs

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr has started its first management transition since a 2004 merger of Washington, D.C.-based Wilmer Cutler and Boston-based Hale and Dorr established the 1,000-lawyer firm.

On Monday, Wilmer announced that partners Susan Murley and Robert Novick will assume the roles of co-managing partners on January 1, 2012. Murley chairs the firm's transactional practice; Novick chairs the firm's regulatory and government affairs practice. Murley and Novick succeed partners William Perlstein and William Lee. The two current co-managing partners orchestrated the 2004 merger.

As with Perlstein and Lee, the next leaders come from different sides of the firm and will be based in separate offices. Boston-based Murley was a partner with predecessor firm Hale and Dorr; Washington, D.C.-based Novick had joined Wilmer Cutler in 2001. But, Lee says in an interview with The Am Law Daily, there is no rule that Wilmer's co-managing partners must represent each of the predecessor firms. And the firm wasn't set on the exact same management structure. The nominating committee considered other structures, Lee says, including one with a chairman and a managing partner. Ultimately, the committee decided to stick with the current co-managing partners setup.

"At the time of the merger, having co-managing partners was necessary to make the merger work," Lee says. "But we have learned if you have co-leaders working together effectively, there are many benefits to the decision-making process."

In 2008, when Lee and Perlstein were elected to an additional three-year term as co-managing partners, the duo said it would be their last go-round as firm leaders. "We thought it was important for the law firm to have new leadership for a new generation," Lee says. "I'm 60. The firm is more about people who are 30 than it is about me," he says. Perlstein also turned 60 this year.

The 14-person nominating committee, selected by the full partnership, began the work of determining the firm's future leadership this past summer. By October, the committee nominated Murley and Novick as co-managing partners to hold a three-year term. The nominations were approved by the full partnership in a voting process that ended on Friday.

Murley joined Hale and Dorr in 1986, after graduating from the University of Virginia. In 1994, she was elevated to the partnership. She was previously assistant managing partner at Hale and Dorr and has served on Wilmer's management committee since the time of the merger.

Novick joined Wilmer Cutler as a partner in 2001, after a stint in the government that included serving as general counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. He received his J.D. from American University's Washington College of Law.

"Susan and I are honored by the trust of the partnership," Novick tells us. "It's daunting to think about taking over a billion dollar business, but the firm is doing terrifically well thanks to the leadership of Bill and Bill. We have a great group of young lawyers and there is great amount of pride associated with being here."

Wilmer ranked 18th in The American Lawyer's most recent Am Law 100 ranking. In 2009, the firm had total gross revenue of $941 million. The firm has 1000 lawyers in 13 offices across the United States and in Europe and Asia.

Once the transition is complete in 2012, Lee and Perlstein plan to return to full time practice. "Bill and I won's fade off into the sunset," says Lee, an intellectual property litigator. Perlstein will devote much of his time to growing the firm's bankruptcy practice in New York.

While the new management announcements begins what is expected to be a smooth transition, Lee admits that in at least one way, the succession presents a major new development for Wilmer. "At our partners retreat a few weeks ago, I acknowledged that the nomination of Bob and Susan is a sharp break from tradition in that neither co-managing partner will be named Bill."

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