Biglaw, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues

Musical Chairs: Orrick Announces Its Next Chairman

Habemus Papam! The white smoke is rising over at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which just announced who will succeed Ralph Baxter as chairman of the 1,100-attorney, 25-office firm.

So who is Orrick’s new chair, and what do we know about him? For starters, he’s quite young….

Mitchell Zuklie

Meet Mitchell Zuklie, a corporate partner with many technology clients, who works out of Orrick’s Silicon Valley office. Zuklie is already part of firm management; he heads Orrick’s global Corporate Business Unit, which includes a half-dozen different corporate practice groups, and he serves on the firm’s Board of Directors. He graduated from Bowdoin College and Boalt Hall.

At 43, Zuklie was “by far the youngest of the four Orrick partners vying to take over the firm’s top management post when Baxter closes out his two-decade-plus run at the top at the end of 2013,” as noted by Am Law Daily. Zuklie beat out some pretty stiff competition for the post of chair: Los Angeles–based finance partner Alan Benjamin, San Francisco–based litigator Walter Brown, and New York–based litigator James Stengel.

Ralph Baxter, by the way, came out of litigation — employment litigation, specifically. Does the selection of Zuklie as Baxter’s successor reflect a shift away from litigation and towards transactional work? It’s possible to make the argument, but it’s probably a bit of a stretch. Baxter took over as chair in 1990, almost 25 years ago, and the Orrick of 1990 and the Orrick of today are two very different law firms.

Speaking of Baxter, he leaves big shoes to fill. As noted in the Orrick press release, he grew Orrick “from a regional firm with 250 lawyers to a global leader with more than 1,100 lawyers in 25 offices worldwide.” The WSJ Law Blog highlights some of Baxter’s specific innovations as a law firm leader:

Orrick’s nominating committee took 18 months to anoint a successor to Mr. Baxter, a prominent figure who took an innovative approach during his tenure as chairman. Under his direction the firm set up a back-office center in 2002 in Wheeling, W.Va., where it employs a fleet of non-partner track lawyers who cost far less than their big-city equivalents. In 2009, Orrick also switched to merit-based compensation for the firm’s associates, instead of having junior lawyers advance in pay based on their length of time at the firm.

One can take different opinions on these changes. Here at Above the Law, we’ve sounded positive notes about Orrick’s presence in Wheeling, while our views on the whole “merit vs. lockstep” issue are more complex (Elie Mystal and I have debated the subject before). Regardless of whether one supports or opposes Baxter’s changes, though, one cannot deny that he is a transformational figure in the world of large law firms and a clear thought leader in the space.

Mitchell Zuklie’s selection as Baxter’s successor must be ratified by Orrick’s 370 partners, but presumably that won’t be a problem. Assuming all goes well, he’ll take over the post of chair in January 2014. Congratulations to Mitchell Zuklie on his being picked for this post, and best of luck to him in the years ahead.

Orrick Taps Zuklie to Succeed Baxter as Chair [Am Law Daily]
Silicon Valley Lawyer to Succeed Ralph Baxter at Orrick [WSJ Law Blog]
Orrick Names Mitchell Zuklie as Chair-Elect [Orrick (press release)]
Mitchell Zuklie [Orrick]

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