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January 30, 2012 3:59 PM

Under New Management: Edwards Wildman Announces Leadership Change

Posted by Brian Baxter

Born of an October 2011 mergerEdwards Wildman Palmer announced the election of a new leadership team triumvirate Monday. The firm's new leaders are spread between offices in Chicago, Hartford, and London.

The change—which the firm's partnership approved over the past several days—comes against the backdrop of lawsuit filed earlier this month against Edwards Wildman and current managing partner Walter Reed by two former partners. Reed, who announced in December that he would soon depart the firm's management ranks, will officially vacate the managing partner's post as of Thursday.

Edwards Wildman's new managing partner is Robert Shuftan, a Chicago-based litigation partner who has served as deputy managing partner and chair of the firm's strategic planning committee. Joining him on the three-man leadership team will be deputy managing partner Laurence Harris and firm chair Alan Levin.

While Shuftan will work on some select matters for a few long-term clients, for the most part he will dedicate himself almost completely to administrative and management duties. Shuftan notes that he and Edwards Wildman's other new leaders are well-versed in law firm leadership.

BobShuftan"All three [of us] have worked in fairly significant law firm management roles over the past decade," says Shuftan (left) speaking via phone from Edwards Wildman's global headquarters in Boston.

Shuftan previously served as managing partner of Chicago-based Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, which first confirmed its plans to merge with Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge last August. The combined 650-lawyer firm, which took the Edwards Wildman name, became official as of October 1.

Harris, Edwards Wildman's new deputy managing partner for the next three years, previously served as managing partner of London-based commercial litigation shop Kendall Freeman, which Edwards Angell acquired in October 2007. Harris subsequently became a member of Edwards Angell's executive committee.

Levin, an insurance partner who coheads Edwards Wildman's insurance and reinsurance department out of Hartford and New York, will serve as chair of the firm for a three-year term. Levin left LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae 17 years ago to join Providence-based Edwards & Angell, which merged with Boston-based Palmer & Dodge in 2005.

After the two large New England firms—Edwards & Angell had about 340 lawyers at the time of the tie-up, while one-office Palmer & Dodge numbered 180—smoothed out the details of their combination, the newly merged entity stayed busy with acquisitions. A year ago this week, Edwards Angell picked up 12-lawyer Washington, D.C.-based communications boutique Fleischman and Harding.

Levin says that while some might view Edwards Wildman as an  "amalgamation of six firms," one key to its future success—and eliminating any legacy firm issues—is its commitment to maintaining a "one firm, one global reporting partnership" that pools all profits.

"We are not a Swiss verein," says Levin, referring to the law firm structure adopted by such global giants  Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose, SNR Denton, and Squire Sanders under which affiliated entities maintain financial independence. Adds Shuftan: "We want to be one cohesive firm."

Edwards Wildman, which is in the process of closing the books for its most recent fiscal year, expects to see its gross revenues for 2011 dip slightly. While saying the decline is not entirely merger-related, Levin acknowledges that such growth "isn’t free."

According to the most recent Am Law 100 financial data, Edwards Angell saw gross revenues rise 4.4 percent in 2010 to $298 million, while profits per partner increased 14.8 percent to $735,000. Wildman Harrold did not qualify for the Am Law 200 in 2010, but the 160-lawyer firm was the 248th largest in the United States last year when measured by attorney head count, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal.

Levin and Harris say that Edwards Wildman remains committed to growing in the world's leading financial centers, specifically citing their firm's operations in Chicago, New York, Hong Kong, and London. Harris, the managing partner of the firm's London office, notes that Edward Wildman has doubled the size of that location since the merger with Kendall Freeman four years ago.

Shuftan says that Edwards Wildman's lawyers are split between five leading practice areas: corporate (200 lawyers), national and international litigation (200 lawyers), insurance, be it regulatory, transactional, or litigation (about 100 lawyers), public finance (35 lawyers), and intellectual property and life sciences (125 lawyers).

All three of the firm's new leaders said that having 14 offices spread across six time zones made it necessary for three people to divvy up the myriad tasks that leading a modern global firm requires. Unlike Shuftan, who will focus almost exclusively on the "managing" aspect of the managing parter's job, Harris and Levin plan to continue practicing law in addition to performing their administrative tasks.

Edwards Wildman also announced Monday that it had inked an 11-year extension to its lease at Providence's One Financial Plaza, and that it had hired insurance partner Barry Weissman from SNR Denton in Los Angeles, where he will launch a local insurance practice.

When asked whether Edwards Wildman was considering any other merger possibilities, Levin says that the firm has "no letter of intent" with anyone right now, but had been approached over the past few months by several interested parties that he declined to name. "We're always open to new opportunities," Shuftan adds.

Shuftan, Levin, and Harris all say that they began the process of seeking leadership positions at Edwards Wildman after former managing partner Reed announced in December that he would step down in early 2012 for "personal and health reasons." A committee of partners was formed to make recommendations of individuals to assume leadership of the firm.

As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, former private client and estate-planning partners Lawrence Cohen and Jay Rosenbaum are suing Edwards Wildman and Reed for damages stemming from their departure from the firm's Boston office in November for Nixon Peabody, taking with them one counsel, two trust administrators, and two investment professionals.

The partners claimed in a suit filed in Delaware Chancery Court that Reed had engaged in an affair with Cohen's wife, Edwards Wildman private client practice cochair Laurie Hall. The suit alleges that Cohen and Rosenbaum, who shared clients at Edwards Angell prior to the merger with Wildman Harrold, saw their compensation cut and found themselves excluded from merger negotiations as a result of Reed's affair with Hall.

Without elaborating on the litigation, in which Edwards Wildman has hired Proskauer Rose and Delaware's Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor to seek the suit's dismissal and force the dispute into arbitration, Levin says that Reed has informed the partnership he intends to remain with the firm.

Other Am Law 100 firms that have announced leadership changes so far this year include DLA Piper and Squire Sanders, while Jones Day recently created a new Midwest management position and named a top corporate partner to fill the role.

 

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