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July 27, 2011 5:40 PM

O'Melveny Taps Litigation Head Butwin as New Chair

Posted by Drew Combs

O’Melveny & Myers has selected Bradley Butwin, the New York–based head of the firm's litigation practice, as its new chair. Butwin, 51, will succeed current O'Melveny chair Arthur “A.B.” Culvahouse, Jr., who has held the position since 2000.

“The chance to lead this great firm is a humbling and exciting privilege,” Butwin told The Am Law Daily during an interview Wednesday, “O’Melveny is a great firm with extraordinary lawyers, top clients, and a rich history.”

The decision to elevate Butwin to O'Melveny's top leadership post comes a bit more than two weeks after the firm confirmed that its policy committee had narrowed to three the field of candidates from which it would choose its new chair. In addition to Butwin, the others under consideration were Washington, D.C.-based partner Thomas McCoy and Los Angeles-based partner M. Randall Oppenheimer. Like Butwin, McCoy and Oppenheimer are litigators.

Under the firm’s rules, the policy committee not only selected the three candidates for the position, but also chose which of the candidates—Butwin, as it turned out—would be put to the partnership for a “ratification” vote. In an interview earlier this month, O’Melveny partner Walter Dellinger told The Am Law Daily, "Ratification will be a straightforward matter because there is widespread satisfaction with the three [possibilities].” (O’Melveny hired consulting firm RHR International to advise it on the selection process.)

The ratification vote confirming Butwin as chair-elect was completed on Wednesday. A decision as to when Butwin will take over from Culvahouse, who has about a year left on his current four-year term, has not yet been made. “We don’t have any magic dates,” Butwin says. “I will work closely with A.B. in order to gain exposure to all aspects of our firm’s business and once that process gets underway we will know better.”

Butwin has chaired the firm’s litigation department for more than two years. His practice includes general commercial litigation and securities litigation for such clients as Bank of America Corp., Morgan Stanley, and UBS AG. Butwin was previously a partner at O’Sullivan, a private equity boutique O'Melveny acquired in 2002 in an effort to bolster its transactional practice. He is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law.

Butwin takes over O'Melveny's top leadership post comes at a critical time for the 14-office, 850-attorney firm, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1885. O’Melveny has lost more than two dozen partners since the start of the year. Like Butwin, some of those who left came to the firm in the O'Sullivan merger. 

Last month, it was announced that three Washington, D.C.–based O'Melveny attorneys were leaving to open up a Washington, D.C., office for Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy. And in May, The Am Law Daily reported on the departure of nine New York–based partners in O'Melveny's corporate and transactions practice.

The departures not only called into question the merits of the merger between O’Melveny and O’Sullivan, but also weakened the firm’s transactional offerings. Butwin says the firm remains committed to its transactional practice and that his top priority "will be working with the transactional practices across the firm to continue to add depth and scope.”

As a result of the departures of practice group leaders, O'Melveny last month announced the promotion of four partners to leadership roles: Silicon Valley–based partner Steven Tonsfeldt became head of the M&A practice group; San Francisco–based partner C. Brophy Christensen and Los Angeles–based partner Eric Reimer became coheads of the corporate finance/capital markets group; and Washington, D.C.–based partner Robert Rizzi assumed leadership of the tax group.

The selection of a new chair and upheaval in the partnership ranks follow a year in which O'Melveny saw its gross revenue decline 5 percent, to $782.4 million. Average profits per partner increased 4.8 percent, to $1.525 million, largely as a result of a 6.8 percent decline in the firm's equity partnership ranks.

Butwin predicts that all of those numbers will improve when the figures for 2011 are tallied. “This has been a strong year so far,” he says. “Things are looking up and I look forward to taking the mantle and working with my partners.”

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