Growth mode? Hogan expands managing partner roles

5 minute read

Hogan Lovells offices in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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(Reuters) - Hogan Lovells litigator Phoebe Wilkinson has an impressive-sounding new title. She just became the firm’s first-ever global managing partner for growth.

It’s a novel title, although several other firms have similar honorifics. K&L Gates, for example, has a global strategic partner; Ballard Spahr has a strategic planning partner and Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath has a lateral growth partner.

All share high-level responsibilities, whether it's growing and deepening client relationships, cultivating legal talent or thinking strategically about future needs.

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As the biggest firms become multi-million or billion-dollar international businesses, such delegation takes some of the load off the shoulders of managing partners spread thin.

Indeed, Wilkinson's new position lands her a seat on Hogan's nine-member international management committee.

Phoebe Wilkinson, photo courtesy of Hogan Lovells.

For large, global firms, adding such roles make “a lot of sense,” said Lisa Smith, who heads the Washington, D.C., office of Fairfax Associates. “It means someone is fully focused on growth, and usually on how to make that growth successful through integration” of lateral hires.

That doesn’t mean the firm’s chair or managing partner “isn’t involved in firm growth,” she added, “but it allows the chair to focus on a broader portfolio of firm responsibilities.”

For large firms, the imperative to grow can sometimes seem relentless. Because the top 200 firms’ revenue and profits are publicly ranked (and of great interest to would-be laterals), firms that fail to show year-over-year increases tend to look like duds.

You’ve got to keep up with the Jones (Days).

At the same time, noted Zeughauser Group principal Kent Zimmermann, “The largest firms are pulling away in scale. The definition of big is changing.”

According to The American Lawyer, top-grossing Kirkland & Ellis raked in more than twice the revenue - $6 billion – last year than Hogan Lovells, the 11th biggest firm in the world, with revenue of $2.6 billion.

Appointing a prominent partner to focus on growth strikes me as one way for 2,750-lawyer Hogan to shore up its position near the front of the pack.

Edge International founder Gerry Riskin calls Hogan’s move “very sophisticated,” applauding the focus on deepening connections in key industry sectors such as consumer products, life sciences, healthcare and energy.

In addition to the new role for Wilkinson, Munich partner Patrick Ayad has been appointed as global managing partner, sectors.

The two of them together take the reins from Ina Brock, who stepped down after six years as managing partner for clients and industries.

I caught up with the New York-based Wilkinson to learn more about her new role.

The goal is to “grow and deepen relationships with the clients we have and to spot what’s coming next, both for current clients and new clients,” she said. “What do clients need? When do they need it? Who do they need to do it?”

Excellent questions – but where does she find the answers?

From the clients themselves, Wilkinson responded.

“We speak to them very directly,” she said, asking things like “When they look around the corner, what do they see? What keeps them up at night?”

She’ll also be working on developing the firm’s pipeline of talent for advancement to partner, a mission that dovetails with her prior position as head of the firm’s advancement committee. She said she embraces the notion of “talent care” (as opposed to “management”) in nurturing and mentoring up-and-coming lawyers at the firm.

It’s one way her role differs a bit from lawyers with similar-sounding titles at other firms.

At K&L Gates, for example, global strategic partner Craig Budner told me that integrating lateral partners (and their clients) is a big focus for him, along with overseeing the firm’s business development, marketing and media relations departments.

Likewise, Ballard’s strategic planning partner John Kerkorian in an email said that his role includes working with laterals and recruiters, as well as “looking at practice optimization and innovation, and working with firm and practice leadership to unify the firm’s strategic efforts and keep us flying in the same direction.”

It’s notable to me that Wilkinson herself is not a homegrown Hogan lawyer. She joined as a partner in 2013 from what was then known as Chadbourne & Parke (now part of Norton Rose Fulbright), where she had worked for almost 20 years.

“I worked hard to get to know the firm,” she said.

Within three years of making the move, she had begun to take on leadership roles, which have included serving on Hogan’s board and heading its New York litigation practice.

She’ll also continue her wide-ranging litigation practice, which centers on representing clients in consumer, life sciences, healthcare and energy industries.

“The days will be long,” she said. “I like a challenge.”

Legal marketing strategist Nader Anise told me he wouldn’t be surprised to see more firms add similar positions.

"The greatest business development tool available to any law firm is to serve the client exceptionally well,” he said. “Creating the global managing partner for growth position as a global growth ‘hub’ will help further that objective."

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Jenna Greene writes about legal business and culture, taking a broad look at trends in the profession, faces behind the cases, and quirky courtroom dramas. A longtime chronicler of the legal industry and high-profile litigation, she lives in Northern California. Reach Greene at jenna.greene@thomsonreuters.com