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James Woolery's decision to end a brief stint on the business side of Wall Street to return to the ranks of The Am Law 100 is among the more notable lateral moves in recent memoryone with implications both for the firm he is joining and the one he left behind.
A former corporate partner and business development chair at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Woolery left the firm in January 2011 to join Cravath client JPMorgan Chase, where he coheaded the North American M&A group for the nation's largest bank. On Sunday the 43-year-old Woolery broke the news, via The New York Times's DealBook, that he was leaving the financial services giant to join Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and become the firm's first deputy chairman.
As Cadwalader's second-in-command, Woolery's overriding mission will be to reboot the firm's M&A practice in the wake of senior partner Dennis Block's September 2011 departure to Greenberg Traurig. His other duties will include serving as cochair of the corporate department, handling the firm's business development, strategy, and external relations, and bolstering Cadwalder's ties to JPMorgan and the financial services industry at large, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal.
In interviews with a half-dozen current and former Cadwalader and Cravath partners, all of whom requested anonymity in order to speak freely, The Am Law Daily pieced together the circumstances that led to Woolery's hire. The stakes are particularly high for Cadwalader, with one current partner noting that boosting the profile of the firm's M&A group could create a ripple effect across a range of other practice areas at a time when the firm is regaining its financial footing after a rough four-year run.
Woolery, who officially started his new job on Monday, spoke with The Am Law Daily from his office at the firm's downtown Manhattan headquarters in the World Financial Center about his decision to leave JPMorgan, which announced this week it would seek to cut 19,000 jobs by the end of 2014.
"This move was about an opportunity to drive an organization that was very well thought out and well planned," says Woolery, recalling breakfast meetings over oatmeal with Cadwalader chairman W. Christopher White at which the two men outlined their strategic vision for the firm. Woolery also cites Cadwalader's "nimble" and "business-like" style as major factors in drawing him to the firm, whose management committee and general partnership he says he met with several times in New York and via video conference over the past several months.
White was similarly effusive in a press release issued by the firm touting Woolery's arrival.
"Jim Woolery is the epitome of the Cadwalader lawyeran exceptional legal mind that can fashion practical business solutions to complex legal problems," White said in his statement. "Jim brings more than two decades of experience advising corporations and boards on the most important business challenges facing them. His arrival at Cadwalader adds to our already strong corporate capabilities."
Woolery says Mark Rosen, president and CEO of New Yorkbased executive search firm Mark Bruce International, was the main facilitator for his move to Cadwalader. (Rosen did not respond to a request for comment about his role representing Woolery.)
"I wasn't looking to join a traditional firm with a staid or clubby atmosphere," says Woolery, noting that the remark was meant not as a knock on Cravath but rather a comment on the "sometimes antiquated" ways in which many large firms operate today.