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February 8, 2011 4:51 PM

Davis Polk Managing Partner John Ettinger to Step Down

Posted by Julie Triedman

John_Ettinger John Ettinger, who has led Davis Polk & Wardwell for the past 12 years, will step down as managing partner by the end of March, the firm announced late Tuesday.

Ettinger, 59, an M&A and securities lawyer who joined the firm in 1979, told his partners of his decision at last Thursday's weekly partnership meeting. He also will relinquish his position on the firm's three-member management committee, which also includes litigation partner Carey Dunne and corporate head Thomas Reid.

The time is right for the move, says Ettinger, who was elected managing partner of Davis Polk in 1999. "The fact that the economy appears to be a little stronger makes it a better time to do this," he says. 

Davis Polk has no mandatory retirement age. Ettinger will continue as a member of the firm. He also plans to spend more time on outside interests, including involvement with other businesses, education, philanthropy, and public service. "There are other things I'd like to be in a position to consider doing at this stage in my life," he says.

Ettinger, like other leaders of Am Law 100 firms, has had his hands full in recent years, given the challenges presented to their businesses by the downturn. The 742-lawyer firm experienced financial volatility during the financial crisis. In 2008, though firm lawyers logged thousands of hours in hectic bail-out related work, especially in the last quarter, the firm's revenue was flat and average profits per equity partner fell 17 percent. But by the end of 2009, Davis Polk managed what few other Wall Street firms were able to accomplish: it increased both revenues and partner profits significantly, as previously reported here last March. 

"We got through this financial crisis with barely a scratch," says Nora Jordan, head of Davis Polk's investment management practice. Ettinger, she says, "cut costs in ways that were almost seamless, and we did not have to resort to drastic moves like other firms did."

As other firms retrenched, Jordan says, Ettinger made strategic hires in the firm's bank regulatory practices, moves that helped Davis Polk win more work during the downturn, as we reported in this feature in the January 2009 issue of The American Lawyer. Ettinger's key hires included regulatory lawyers who would strengthen the firm's financial institutions group in Washington--former Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner Annette Nazareth and director of enforcement Linda Chatman Thomsen, and former FDIC general counsel John Douglas, among others.

The M&A and securities lawyer also has overseen Davis Polk's expansion in the U.S. and abroad, though at a more measured pace than some of the firm's competitors. Some 16 partners have joined the firm over the course of his tenure as managing partner (more than the tradition-bound firm had ever taken on before). Davis Polk opened an office in Menlo Park, California, in 1999; in Madrid in 2001; and in Beijing in 2007. The Washington, D.C., office, which until recently did not have a partner, has grown substantially over the past four years. More recently, the firm launched a Hong Kong law practice with three key lawyers in that office, including Antony Dapiran from Freshfields, Bonnie Chan from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange regulatory board, and Paul Chow from Linklater's Beijing office.

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