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July 11, 2011 6:57 PM

Three O'Melveny Partners Being Eyed to Succeed Culvahouse

Posted by Drew Combs

And then there were three.

A year ahead of the end of Arthur "A.B." Culvahouse's four-year term, O'Melveny & Myers's policy committee has narrowed to three the field of partners being considered to succeed him in the firm's top leadership post--and expects to have its ultimate choice put to a partnership vote by summer's end.

OMM_Butwin The three attorneys under consideration to become the firm's next chair are: Bradley Butwin (pictured top right), the New York-based chair of the firm's litigation department; Washington, D.C.-based partner Thomas McCoy (pictured below left), who recently rejoined the firm after retiring last year as executive vice president for legal, corporate, and public affairs at Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.; and M. Randall Oppenheimer (pictured bottom right), a Los Angeles-based partner who heads the litigation practice in the firm's Century City office.

OMM_McCoy "We have a number of excellent lawyers who could have been considered, but there was a strong consensus around these three lawyers," says Walter Dellinger, a Washington, D.C.-based partner in the firm's appellate practice. "The feelings around the firm are that we would be very fortunate to have any of these three partners as chair."

Adds Dellinger: "All three are very collaborative colleagues, and each one is committed to the firm regardless of the outcome of the process."

OMM_Oppenheimer The winnowing of the field marks a major step in a succession process that Dellinger says has been in the works for some time. It also comes amid a wave of key partner defections that have hit O'Melveny hard. The firm has lost some two dozen partners since the start of the year.

Dellinger says that Culvahouse--who bested four challengers in winning his third term as chair in 2008 and, at 63, would face mandatory retirement before finishing another four-year term--and the firm's policy committee first began discussing succession last year.

In March, Dellinger says, the firm hired RHR International to assist in the process, in part by helping to identify the qualities the firm's next chairman should possess. The process, Dellinger adds, relied heavily on input from the partnership.

The firm's policy committee then went to work compiling the three-partner short list. The next step is for one candidate to be selected as the next chair, subject to a ratification vote by the partnership, Dellinger says. "Ratification will be a straightforward matter because there is widespread satisfaction with the three [possibilities]," he says.

Dellinger is not a member of the firm's policy committee and could not speak in detail about how the panel came to select Butwin, McCoy, and Oppenheimer or about how it will now select one of the three as the firm's next chair. But Dellinger says, "The policy committee has been open to discussing the chair selection process with any of the lawyers in the firm. They did that with coming up with the three names."

The transition to new leadership comes at a critical juncture for O'Melveny.

In May, The Am Law Daily reported on the departure of nine New York-based partners in O'Melveny's corporate and transactions practice. Six of the departing lawyers, including Gregory Ezring, cochair of the firm's corporate finance/capital markets practice, joined Paul, Weiss Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The other two partners joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges's private equity group.

Beyond the raw numbers, the lateral moves were significant because they included former partners at the private equity boutique O'Sullivan, which O'Melveny acquired in 2002 with an eye toward bolstering its transactional practice.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks ago it was announced that three Washington, D.C.–based O'Melveny attorneys, including Barbara Stettner, a partner in the firm's financial services practice, were leaving to open up a Washington, D.C., office for Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy.

As a result of the departures of practice group leaders, the firm 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 heads of the corporate finance/capital markets group; and Washington, D.C.-based partner Robert Rizzi took over the tax group.

The upheaval in the partnership ranks follows a year in which the firm saw its gross revenue decline 5 percent, to $782.4 million. Not all the financial news was bleak for O'Melveny in 2010: average profits per partner increased 4.8 percent to $1.525 million, largely as a result of the firm's equity partnership contracting 6.8 percent.

This month, Am Law Daily sibling publication The American Lawyer reported that O'Melveny was one of four firms to fall off The A-List, in part as a result of a 37-point drop in its associate satisfaction score.

It was unclear as of Monday when the new chair will officially take the reins from Culvahouse. Dellinger says that the actual date of the leadership hand-off "will unfold in the transition process," adding that "there is basically another year of [Culvahouse's] term and that will be a year in which the transition can occur."

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