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New Mayer Brown Chair Theiss Looks Ahead

7 June 2012
The American Lawyer
Change has arrived at three Am Law 100 firms, with Mayer Brown, Fulbright & Jaworski, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton electing partners to new firm leadership roles.

At Mayer Brown, corporate and securities partner Paul Theiss—who has spent his entire 27-year career at the firm—assumed the role of chairman as of June 1. Theiss succeeds employment partner Herbert Krueger (both Theiss and Krueger are based in Chicago, where Mayer Brown has its roots). Krueger, 64, was elected chairman in 2009, after Mayer Brown unveiled a new management structure that reestablished the managing partner position (Kenneth Geller currently holds that title). Krueger is ineligible to serve another term due to age limit contained in the firm's partnership agreement.

Theiss, 52, will serve a three-year term in his new post at the firm, which he joined in 1985 after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School. He is also a member of Mayer Brown's management committee and is a former co-leader of the firm's global corporate and securities practice. As a partner, he has advised clients on various aspects of M&A and capital markets work.

Despite a 7 percent dip that brought its head count down to 1,523—the lowest total since 2007—Mayer Brown enjoyed a turnaround in its financial performance last year, according to the most recent Am Law 100 data. Krueger has said the decline in the attorney ranks was the delayed result of recession-driven layoffs. The firm did hire more than 30 lateral partners last year, though, including 21 former Howrey attorneys. Mayer Brown also recently picked up five partners from Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Theiss says he views lateral hiring is part of the firm's growth strategy. "We are focused on growing in places where we're already very strong to try to play to our strengths," he says. But he adds that it's still too early to tell whether or not the firm's head count will increase in 2012.

Mayer Brown came in at number 14 on the most recent Am Law 100 ranking in terms of gross revenue. According to that data, the firm saw its gross revenues increase by 2.4 percent in 2011, to $1.134 billion. The bump came a year after gross revenue fell to a four-year low of $1.11 billion.

Theiss credits cross-selling work across practice areas as one reason for the firm's turnaround last year. "I think our partners have really embraced the idea of working together as teammates across jurisdictions and across practice areas," he says.

Nestlé is one major client that has given the firm work in a number of areas, including M&A and litigation. Earlier this year, Krueger told The Am Law Daily he expected litigation to reamain a strength for the firm in 2012, but that things could be a bit tougher on the transactional market. Already this year, though, Nestlé has turned to the firm as outside counsel on a mega-deal—the ompany's $11.9 billion acquisition of Pfizer's infant nutrition business in April—and Theiss says he's optimistic that more such assignments will follow.

Last month, Mayer Brown was among the firms mentioned in an Am Law Daily article about potential legal mergers between U.S.–based and international shops, with the firm linked to London-based SJ Berwin in rumors of a possible tie-up. (SJ Berwin has also had merger talks with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Proskauer Rose, in recent years.) A Mayer Brown spokeswoman told The Am Law Daily at the time that the firm doesn't comment on rumors in the marketplace and Theiss did not elaborate on the subject Wednesday.

Like Mayer Brown, Fulbright is going through leadership changes. The firm announced last month that Kenneth Stewart—the head of the firm's Dallas office—had been elected to succeed Steven Pfeiffer as chair of the 800-plus lawyer firm's executive committee. Stewart will replace Pfeiffer, who has held the role of chairman since 2003, at the start of next year.

Overall, Fulbright saw its financials dip in 2011, with gross revenues dropping 4.5 percent from 2010, to $597.5 million, putting Fulbright at No. 48 on the latest Am Law 100 rankings.

In a statement released by the firm, Stewart spoke about the "promising future" for Fulbright. "Our continued global expansion has us well positioned to serve our clients around the world."

Stewart has been a Fulbright partner since 1987, focusing on a variety of corporate and transactional matters. He has been the Dallas partner-in-charge since 2004, overseeing an office with roughly 150 attorneys.

With the move from Washington, D.C.-based Pfeiffer to Dallas' Stewart, Fulbright is opting for a leader based much closer to its Houston roots. Other firms have chosen to look outside well beyond their own backyards. Among them: Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton,which announced Tuesday that it has elected D.C.-based financial institutions partner Paul Aguggia as the 630-lawyer firm's next chair.

In tapping a leader based outside its hometown, Kilpatrick is following the recent lead of such firms as Kaye Scholer and Sidley Austin. New York–based Kaye Scholer named Chicago bankruptcy specialist Michael Solow as its first non-New York managing partner as its first non–New York managing partner at the start of 2012. Meanwhile, Chicago-based Sidley said in April that D.C. office head Carter Phillips would succeed Thomas Cole as chair of the firm's executive committee in 2013.

According to Am Law Daily sibling publication the Daily Report, Aguggia, 49, will succeed Bill Dorris on July 1, while Atlanta partner Henry Walker IV will ascend to the rank of co-managing partner. (The former chair of predecessor firm Townsend and Townsend and Crew, Maureen Sheehy, serves as the firm's other co-managing partner.)

As the Daily Report notes, choosing a partner from outside Atlanta is likely Kilpatrick's way of putting the legal industry on notice that it aims to transform itself from a regional firm to a national player. The firm was created via the 2011 merger between San Francisco's Townsend and Townsend and Atlanta's Kilpatrick Stockton—a tie-up that saw the combined firm leap to No. 78 on the most recent Am Law rankings with gross revenues of $362 million.

Aguggia told the Daily Report that Kilpatrick is considering further growth, including potential West Coast expansion. But the firm does not want to risk losing its culture by growing too quickly too fast. "We want to be in the geographic and practice areas that our clients want us to be in, but we don't want to veer off course and lose the culture we have," he said. "We want to put our clients first and enjoy being lawyers at the firm."

Reprinted with permission from the June 7, 2012 edition of The American Lawyer © 2012 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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