April 24, 2024


Built General Tough

The top law firm leaders and non-legal professionals

Featured here are five law firm leaders and five business and practice leaders who have made an impact through their capacity to innovate in the past months, writes Kate Barlow.

The law firm leaders were selected for showing true leadership during a crisis. They have not only made clear statements about racial inequality but are taking action to address it in their firms and communities. They have implemented strategies and programmes to ensure employees are supported and connected while working remotely.

We also feature five business and practice leaders who have brought about significant change. From pushing for better use of technology to training the next generation, these individuals demonstrate how both legal and non-legal professionals have made their firms more efficient, inclusive and digital.

Profiles researched and compiled by RSG Consulting and FT editors


Joe Andrew, global chairman, Dentons

Joe Andrew has led the firm of 11,000 lawyers, and previously SNR Denton — until it merged with two other firms to become Dentons 2012 — for the past decade. In response to the disruption of Covid-19, he adopted the phrase “the new dynamic” as an alternative to “the new normal” as a strategic approach. This involved creating a website for its “new dynamic” strategy offering resources on subjects such as scenario planning and how to pivot quickly.

Mr Andrew was chair of the Democratic National Committee from 1999 to 2001 and, among many other skills, he is a published novelist and a founder of several companies.

He helps clients think about the future, from smart growth to being more socially conscious. In 2019, the firm implemented NextTalent, a programme to improve lawyers’ technological and management skills. Last year, Dentons initiated a crisis plan, including home-access kits and a wellbeing team.

Ellen Dwyer, executive committee chair, Crowell & Moring

Ellen Dwyer was made managing partner in 2008 and has been chair of the executive committee since 2017. She has encouraged a more innovative culture at the firm through rewarding collaborative efforts and expecting partners to create opportunities for others. The firm’s digital transformation practice, launched in 2018, works alongside sector-based functions, such as healthcare, so that cross-disciplinary teams support clients with digital transformation.

Ms Dwyer became chair of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity board this year and champions the sponsorship of female lawyers. During the pandemic, the firm supported employee wellbeing, raising a hardship fund of $400,000 for staff. It also developed an Office Pass app to make it easier to self-report contact with people with Covid-19.

Jonathan Harmon, chair, McGuireWoods

Following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May and the ensuing calls for racial justice, Jonathan Harmon has used his leadership position to drive change at his firm and in wider society.

In May, he set up a racial justice task force, comprising McGuireWoods lawyers and consultants, that meets with community leaders in Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina, and in Richmond, Virginia, to advocate racial equality with police and criminal justice reform.

In February, Mr Harmon launched a diversity and inclusion event with Bank of America that was attended by more than 200 lawyers from law firms, companies and government. He also created a webcast series, Leaders in the Law, that gathers black legal aid lawyers and corporate counsel together to discuss racial justice.

Julie Jones, chair, Ropes & Gray

When Julie Jones became chair of Ropes & Gray in January, she could not have predicted the drastic changes through which she would start steering the firm almost straightaway. In response to the pandemic, she set up a wellbeing programme to support staff — including online family events, remote-learning sessions and entertainment programmes — and made the firm’s summer associate programme virtual.

Ms Jones has led teams of lawyers to provide legal and business advice to state governments, companies and hospitals. She oversaw the launch of the Covid Relief Coalition, a programme to support more than 1,000 small businesses through pro bono legal advice.

A secondment programme that allows associates to spend a year at a public-interest organisation or government entity was also launched by Ms Jones.

Kim Koopersmith, chairperson, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Since becoming chair in 2013, Kim Koopersmith has invested in the geographic expansion and financial growth of the firm, doubling the number of lawyers outside the US and driving revenue growth of almost 50 per cent. In 2014, she led the firm’s acquisition of Bingham McCutchen’s London office, including its financial restructuring team. Akin Gump’s London office is now its third largest and the takeover helped the firm pass $1bn in revenue for the first time in 2017.

Ms Koopersmith’s commitment to diversity and inclusion dates back to her time as a junior lawyer, when she persuaded the firm to introduce a reduced workload policy to help keep women on the track to partnership. As chair, she hired a diversity and inclusion officer. She has also extended parental leave and introduced Be Well, a firm-wide programme focused on employee wellbeing.


Ben Barnett, partner, Dechert

Ben Barnett is a leading authority on electronic discovery, or ediscovery — the electronic retrieval of legal data from documents. He has led the firm’s preferred vendor programme to help reduce costs and risks of ediscovery for clients.

Mr Barnett has spearheaded several important ediscovery efforts, including in a recent corruption investigation at Airbus. The discovery process in the Airbus case covered 1,750 entities, with each document being reviewed just once for several legal matters, and collaborating with others on the virtual law firm panel. This comprehensive approach enabled the firm to self-report misconduct and disclose relevant documents quickly, which avoided the costs of a drawn-out criminal investigation and won Airbus millions in co-operation credits.

Mr Barnett has also worked on Dechert Detect, a tool to help clients identify and resolve data-integrity issues.

Siobhan Handley, chief talent officer, Orrick

As Orrick’s managing director of resources, former litigator Siobhan Handley oversaw the firm’s transition from a traditional lockstep model, where partners’ pay is determined by how long they have been at the firm, to a merit-based system.

In response to Covid-19, Ms Handley pushed for a $1,000 stipend for staff to support their wellbeing. At the height of the pandemic, she offered employees who are primary caregivers three months’ full pay while working 80 per cent of their normal hours. She also introduced meeting-free Fridays and an email-free weekends policy.

Ms Handley’s promotion of flexible working has led to an additional 40 lawyers — 40 per cent of whom are men — adjusting their schedules this year to attend to their family. She introduced social justice fellowships, where lawyers are seconded to non-profits. The firm is also providing allyship training to help staff learn how to support black, Asian and minority ethnic team members.

Laura Maechtlen, partner, Seyfarth Shaw

As leader of the labour and employment department of 400 lawyers, Laura Maechtlen uses her experience to push for more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

She led the foundation of the Belonging Project, which started as a resource centre and has become a coaching and mentoring programme. This ensures lawyers from under-represented backgrounds are not adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, offering skills training and wellbeing support. To date, some 80 volunteers have provided mentorship and coaching, and more than 4,000 individuals have viewed the content online.

Ms Maechtlen has played a key leadership role in the firm’s Covid-19 task force, creating webinars and resources to support clients on the challenges of adapting to a workforce at home, and developing tools such as a return-to-work app and a legal work tracker.

Adam Ruttenberg, partner, Cooley

As chair of the firm’s technology committee, Adam Ruttenberg spearheads the development and implementation of tech-based tools, systems and processes to improve the working lives of clients and employees.

Mr Ruttenberg led the firm’s work in creating Lupl, a legal tech start-up launched this year in collaboration with law firms Cooley, CMS and Rajah & Tann. He has worked on developing Lupl’s open industry platform, which aims to organise emails, documents, conversations and data for legal matters and gather them in one place.

Other tools Mr Ruttenberg has developed to automate and manage legal work include a deals database to analyse mergers and acquisitions deal terms and Finiq, a tool that collects and manages clients’ financial data.

Amy Wegener, chief practice innovation officer, Paul Hastings

During 25-plus years at the firm, Amy Wegener has shown the value of non-legal professionals in driving efficiency and creating opportunities. She redesigned the firm’s knowledge management function to create the practice innovation and legal solutions department. She leads the team in working with lawyers and clients to effect digital transformation in timekeeping, legal project management and legal tech training.

Ms Wegener has expanded the team to 50 professionals, who use tech to increase the efficiency of legal practice. The team set up an automated workflow for the firm’s Libor transition task force and created a data visualisation tool to predict market trends. She has worked with students at the University of California’s Irvine School of Law, where she also lectures, to experiment with automating legal workflows for the firm using artificial intelligence tools.