The Two Women Who Put a Billion Dollar Law Firm Together

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Women lawyers may have their challenges in the law, but when they rise to them there can be an unstoppable momentum, such as the two power lawyers who lead the Big Law merger of Bryan Cave and Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP).

The combined firm now has a turnover of $1 billion with 560 partners across 31 offices.

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The two high powered women took different routes to the top. Bryan Cave managing partner Therese Pritchard (left) had worked in the financial services and law enforcement arena, handling high profile fraud prosecutions and developed strong leadership skills.

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Lisa Mayhew, (above)by contrast, was an employment lawyer working formerly at both Hogan Lovells and Jones Day before becoming managing partner at BLP.

Under their leadership, both firms had undertaken strategic reviews of their operations in or about 2014, operating in many areas that overlapped one another, as well as seeking global growth and innovation.

Therese Pritchard had noted that BLP had failed in their proposed merger with Greenberg Traurig and decided to investigate the firm for a potential merger. Bryan Cave had identified the areas of their greatest strength, including finance, private equity, capital markets and real estate, noting that BLP had similar strengths and a strong record in innovation, which Bryan Cave wanted.

The synergies, in other words, were there.

“Their financial metrics were similar to ours. So it had all of the hallmarks of at least being worth a conversation,” Pritchard said.

Her counterpart at BLP, Lisa Mayhew, was apparently playing hard to get for a short while at least. The two eventually met for breakfast in London in early 2017.

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That started the courtship, which continued ‘in secret’ in Berlin.

As Mayhew said: ‘We met next in Berlin, in secret, and we just spent time walking through the practice groups, the geographies, the cultures, main clients, just to get a sense of the degree of potential alignment and any potential “gating” issues that might make us conclude that this wouldn’t be a productive conversation to have.’

She says their early contact identified ‘exciting strategic alignment and shared cultural values’.

They also wanted a genuinely single firm, not simply some branding exercise. Today they sit as co-chairs of the merged firm, Byran Cave Leighton Paisner. The fact that the two women lawyers felt ‘connected’, as Pritchard noted, the merger proceeded successfully. The first of the global partnership meetings occurred in Boca Raton, Florida with 560 partners
meeting – the first of several meetings.

‘I just wanted to emphasise that we feel good about this firm for so many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s been embraced in a way that’s leading to some positive financial results.’ Profit per equity partner has increased by 5 per cent in the first year,” Pritchard said.

Beyond Profits

But the firm is seeking also to improve other metrics, such as social mobility, equality and diversity. The firm intends working hard to bring the most out of its staff, offering maximum opportunities.

‘We identify diverse lawyers who are mid-level associates who we think have the potential to be great partners,’

Pritchard said. ‘We team them up with a senior partner who is a star – a rainmaker and a great lawyer. That senior partner is responsible for helping that person get across the line by developing relationships with people, giving good critical feedback on work… they develop a bond that is very important.’

“Last year was the first year when a lot of those people came up for partner. I’m very happy to say that our partner class year was 57 per cent women globally and 22 per cent lawyers of color [in the US]. That’s a program we’re very proud of.”

The London-based partners are learning from the American experience of ‘the Mansfield rule’, developed by the Diversity Lab, an incubator for ideas that boost diversity in the law, which requires a consideration of candidates that have at least 30 per cent diversity, encouraging broad thinking about candidate elevation to senior roles.

The diversity factor is also something that clients are requiring of the law firms they instruct, as well as other factor like technical innovation – another fact that is pushing the firm to innovate.

The firm has rrecently refreshed its leadership, with current co-chair Lisa Mayhew elected to a four-year term at the head of the firm. Co-chair Therese Pritchard was not eligible to run for another term and has been replaced by legacy Bryan Cave partner Steven Baumer.

Source: Law Gazette