In the span of two days, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius made changes to leadership in nine of the firm’s 28 offices, with many of the changes adding a recently hired Bingham McCutchen partner to co-lead with an existing Morgan Lewis managing partner.
The moves are part of Morgan Lewis’ overall effort to integrate the more than 500 lawyers who joined the firm in a mass lateral move from Bingham on Nov. 24. Along with including Bingham attorneys on the firmwide management committee and making office leadership changes, Morgan Lewis has also charged its legacy attorneys with serving as a “buddy” to Bingham lawyers to help them in the transition.
Jami Wintz McKeon, who took over as chairwoman of Morgan Lewis in October, has plenty of experience with integration, instituting similar programs at the firm when she helped bring 150 Brobeck Phleger & Harrison attorneys on board more than a decade ago.
McKeon said in a statement to The Legal on Jan. 23 that the firm regularly changes office leadership roles, and often at the start of a new year.
“This year, in addition to making those changes, we decided to add co-managing partners in those cities where we have many new colleagues, and in particular, in offices that have grown considerably in size,” McKeon said. “This is good both for integration purposes and also because it lets us take advantage of new talent in our firm.”
McKeon said the firm has also added new practice leaders, in some instances because the firm gained new practices in the deal and in other instances because Morgan Lewis wanted to increase leadership in practices significantly expanded by the Bingham additions.
“One of the areas that we are the most focused on is a seamless integration and, in our experience, we have found that the buddy system is a great way to welcome new colleagues,” McKeon said. “I am happy to say the buddy system is up and running and we have received very positive feedback on it.”
Joseph Altonji of LawVision Group in Chicago said integration is critical whether it be a one-off lateral partner or a merger, though with slightly different approaches. And unfortunately, he said, it is often something that is an afterthought for firms, getting little consideration until after a deal is done.
Altonji said he isn’t a huge fan of co-leadership positions, at least for a long period of time, because it confuses things and can diffuse responsibilities. That is particularly the case at the practice leadership level, he said, where a merger that does not include office overlap could see integration stifled when co-leaders of a practice stick to managing their respective, legacy territories.
Office leadership is more of an administrative role than a strategic function, he said, making co-leadership of an office seem like job multiplication. Though he again noted that it is important to get new lawyers in such a large acquisition into leadership positions, he cautioned that it shouldn’t be joint leadership for an extended period.
“I would focus on trying to get to integration first, efficiency second and ultimately clarity on who is responsible for what fairly quickly,” Altonji said.
As to the timeframe for the co-leadership positions, McKeon said in her statement to The Legal that “the roles do change on a regular basis, but we plan on maintaining dual managing partners in our offices where it makes the most sense for the near term at least.”
As McKeon noted, Morgan Lewis has created dual office leadership in some of its largest offices, such as Washington, D.C., where it has 400 lawyers, and New York, where there are 300 lawyers.