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June 29, 2011 6:00 AM

Debevoise Names Michael Blair New Presiding Partner

Posted by Drew Combs

Debevoise & Plimpton announced Wednesday that Michael Blair, chair of the corporate department, will become the firm's new presiding partner on Friday.

Blair assumes the leadership role at the New York-based firm following a selection process that consists of current presiding partner Martin Frederic "Rick" Evans talking with all the firm's partners about who would best fill the position, according to Blair.

Blair tells The Am Law Daily he is excited to assume his new title.

"As a young lawyer I learned when people rely on you, it is quite motivating," he says. “I am determined to do everything I can to live up to the expectations of my partners."

Blair’s term as managing partner will last five years. There is the possibility for Blair, 55, to serve a second five-year term, but the firm’s mandatory retirement age of 65 would prohibit anything beyond that.

At Debevoise, the presiding partner chairs the firm’s management committee and, according to Blair, “sets the affirmative agenda of the firm” with respect to a wide range of external and internal issues.

Blair says he plans to focus some of his efforts on training in a way that makes associates at the firm more aware of the business, and not just legal, challenges that clients face. “We need to continually help our junior lawyers become more business savvy,” he says. “They have to train up more on the businesses our clients are in.”

Additionally, Blair says he plans to meet regularly with Debevoise’s largest clients “so we can continually evolve in terms of the capabilities we need to offer them.”

Blair says that he also aims to increase diversity within the firm's attorney ranks. He notes that over the past four years, nine of Debevoise's 15 new partners were women. At the same time, he acknowledges that the firm still has work to do in this area. For The American Lawyer's 2011 Diversity Scorecard, the 674-attorney firm ranked twenty-sixth place out of 194 firms, with minority attorneys making up 20.4 percent of the firm’s workforce. In 2010 the firm came in ranked thirty-fourth out of over 200 firms.

His new management duties notwithstanding, Blair says he plans to maintain much of his current corporate practice. That practice includes M&A, securities, and corporate governance work. “I have had a senior management role since 1997, so it is my hope and expectation that I will be able to continue my practice,” he says.

Blair’s practice has included advising the board of ABN AMRO in 2007 when it was acquired by a consortium led by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc. Additionally, in 2007 he advised Phelps Dodge Corp. in a $26 billion acquisition by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., that created one of the world’s largest mining concerns.

In September, Blair led a Debevoise team that advised Protective Life Corp. in a deal in which one of its subsidiaries acquired United Investors Life Insurance from Liberty National Life Insurance for $316 million. 

Evans, who has held the presiding partner position since 1998, will retire from the firm at the end of the year in light of the mandatory retirement policy. Evans turns over a firm that last year saw revenues decline by 1.6 percent to $657 million versus the prior year. Despite that drop, profits per partner rose by 11 percent to $2.06 million.

Even though Blair has yet to assume the presiding partner position, there is at least one group that is showing him greater deference in light of his new title. “I have three kids,” he says. “They were impressed, and it’s not easy to impress them.”

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