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Partner-in-Charge, New York Office, Mayer Brown

17 October 2017
New York Law Journal

Q: What are some of your proudest recent achievements?

A: Helping to build the New York office by recruiting and hiring some of the best lateral partners in the market over the last eight years.

Designing the space for and relocating the firm's more than 200-lawyer New York office to 1221 Avenue of Americas. The new space has significantly increased office collaboration and efficiency.

I led a litigation team that, after seven years of hard fought litigation, prevailed in a very important case on behalf of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. The case involved a highly complex clinical trial that resulted in a finding that the drug was not effective. That produced litigation by the biotech firm, which believed that the clinical trial was incorrectly conducted by our client. The case involved a significant amount of science and bio-statistical analysis, which was incredibly interesting.

Q: What does it mean to be a leader?

A: Managing a large law firm or office is challenging. Lawyers famously do not want to be told what to do and how to act. Gentle persuasion is the best management tool that I can think of. Lawyers want to run their own practices, but my job is to incentivize collaboration within the office and between and among practice groups in other Mayer Brown offices. I consider the most important attribute of leadership as finding opportunities for lawyers in different practices and offices to interact and collaborate.

I celebrate our staff. We could not function without them and I make every effort to single them out for praise.

Q: Name a lawyer or mentor whose leadership inspired you.

A: The lawyer who I worked with for the first eight years of my career was Russell Brooks, the then-head of litigation at Milbank Tweed. Russell was a lawyers' lawyer who conducted himself in a respectful manner both with his colleagues and adversaries. He always focused on overall strategy and executing that strategy step by step. Clarity of strategy was paramount to Russell. He also taught that the best legal writing involves clear and concise sentences that build an argument—a sentiment I have passed on to our associates. Russell passed away several years ago, but the lessons he shared will be with me forever.

Q: How are the business and profession of law changing, and how should lawyers adapt for the future?

A: The business of law has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Clients are playing a larger role in managing their legal portfolios. They know and understand the role of their outside counsel and do not defer. Clients expect a high level of collaboration at a reasonable and predictable price. It's not just about advising clients—it's about partnering with them. Any lawyer starting out today must put himself or herself in the shoes of the client and fully understand that client's business.

Q: What is the best advice for someone considering a career in law, or someone already in the profession who is seeking to make a greater impact?

A: Beyond having a very client-centric approach, as discussed above, the key attribute of a successful lawyer is that he or she loves what they do. This is a tough profession, and if you don't come to work every day looking forward to practicing law, in collaboration with your colleagues and clients, you will likely not be successful.

*****

Reprinted with permission from the October 17, 2017 edition of New York Law Journal © 2017 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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    Richard A. Spehr
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