Major law firms select their leaders in different ways. Some have a committee of partners do the picking, for example, while others have the outgoing leader designate her successor.

Rank-and-file partners often have little to no say in the selection. And, perhaps because the process is frequently run by a small group of people at the top, it doesn’t often come with much public drama. Yes, some firm leadership struggles boast intrigue worthy of Game of Thrones, but it’s generally kept under wraps.

At one prominent law firm, though, the entire partnership selects the managing partner in a firm-wide vote. This year’s election was contested — and not everyone is happy with the results….

Over at Reed Smith, litigator Alexander “Sandy” Thomas just defeated transactional lawyer John Martini in a contested election for the post of global managing partner. Thomas had been serving in the role on an interim basis ever since longtime managing partner Greg Jordan left last year to become general counsel of PNC Financial Services.

Some were surprised by the contested election, especially since Jordan had endorsed Thomas for the role and Thomas had been discharging it on an acting basis. But leadership battles aren’t new to Reed Smith. Back in 2009, John DiNome announced a challenge to Jordan before ultimately withdrawing his candidacy.

This time around, Martini went the distance in his challenge to Thomas, going all the way to a formal partnership vote. Here’s what one tipster told us about the election:

Results are in for the contested elections for managing partner. Eight-month campaign resulted in Sandy Thomas beating John Martini by big margin — 213:90.

Many at the firm, especially on the transactional side of the firm, are very concerned, and massive departures are expected.

So it sounds like the vote reflected a struggle between the litigators and the transactional types for the soul of Reed Smith. Sandy Thomas is a commercial and antitrust litigator who previously chaired the litigation department, while John Martini currently serves as vice chair of the business and finance department.

For his part, the Philadelphia-based Martini denied any friction: “Sandy and I have very similar visions for the firm…. Though I lost the election, I am extremely confident in Sandy’s leadership and will remain a significant contributor at Reed Smith for many years to come.”

Along similar lines, Sandy Thomas had this to say when we contacted him for comment: “In a large law partnership there is never full agreement on any subject. Throughout the course of the election it became clear that there was far more agreement than disagreement. John Martini and I had lunch yesterday and we are working together to build on that consensus.”

Congratulations to Thomas on his election, and good luck to him as he steers the 1,900-lawyer firm into a new era.

Reed Smith managing partner fends off election challenge from Philly partner [Philadelphia Business Journal]
Sandy Thomas sees off early challenge to leadership [Legal Business]
Reed Smith elects Thomas to three-year term as global managing partner [Pittsburgh Business Times]
Sandy Thomas fends off challenger to retain Reed Smith global MP role [Legal Week]
Reed Smith managing partner Thomas retains role after contested election [The Lawyer]


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