Litigator McKeon to Succeed Milone as Morgan Lewis Chair
A leadership transition is under way at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, with longtime chair Francis Milone preparing to make way for Jami Wintz McKeon, a Morgan Lewis lifer who currently serves as head of litigation at the 1,600-lawyer firm.
Morgan Lewis announced Tuesday that its partnership has elected McKeon, 56, to a five-year term starting next October. McKeon, whose current management responsibilities also include a position on the firm's 18-member advisory board, was unopposed in her bid to become the firm's next chair.
Milone, 66, has served as chair since 1999 and is the only leader Morgan Lewis has known since it launched a total overhaul of its management structure that year. Until then, Morgan Lewis had been been run throughout its century-plus history by a 17-member advisory board that weighed in on all decisions.
"We hadn't adapted to the world at that point," Milone says. "It was difficult to make decisions that were anything other than really compromises, and difficult to make them promptly."
Milone, an employment litigator, initially installed three managing partners on his leadership team and later expanded the number of lawyers serving in that role to four. In addition to the advisory board on which McKeon already sits, the firm also has a seven-member compensation committee and practice group leaders who report directly to the chair. Under Morgan Lewis's partnership agreement, McKeon will have the authority to appoint as many or as few managing partners as she likes.
The firm's incoming chair has already identified a few key ways in which Morgan Lewis will be run differently on her watch. For starters, she plans to continue her litigation practice. Milone, on the other hand, hasn't practiced since 1997.
"If you’re in a firm or company where the focus is on serving clients, then being involved yourself in client service helps you shape the direction of the firm," McKeon says. "I think it’s important for the leaders of a firm to stay very close to the practice."
She says she also plans to do more to promote the firm to the public and potential clients—something that Milone, looking back, acknowledges that he could have been better at.
"Because the firm is not a limelight-seeking place, not everybody knows what we do or how well we do it," McKeon says. "I’d like to see that improved." Milone says he was always inclined to let the firm's work speak for itself. "If you do things well, people who need to know about it, know about it," he says.
Milone, who joined Morgan Lewis in 1977 as an associate after several years at Philadelphia firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, says he is proud of the consistency—in everything from the firm's client base to its finances to its attorney ranks—that has marked his tenure at the top, even during the darkest days of the so-called Great Recession.
McKeon seconds that notion: "Fiscal stability was a big deal for us long before it became in vogue."
During Milone's run as chair, Morgan Lewis has grown and kept pace with its industry peers. In 1999, Morgan Lewis was the 13th highest-grossing law firm in the country, according to The Am Law 100, with gross revenue of $429.5 million and profits per equity partner of $505,000. By 2009, the firm had edged up to No. 11 on The Am Law 100. Last year, Morgan Lewis landed at No. 12 on the annual rankings, with gross revenue of $1.23 billion and profits per equity partner of $1.55 million.
Much of the expansion in recent years has been a byproduct of other law firms imploding. In the early 2000s, for instance, Morgan Lewis established a major California presence by adding more than 150 lawyers from Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison after merger talks between the two firms collapsed. McKeon, based, like Milone, in Philadelphia, moved her family to San Francisco for eight years to help integrate the new arrivals.
Other mass hires followed. The firm gained partners from Howrey in Chicago and Irvine when that firm went under in 2011. Last year, Morgan Lewis opened offices in Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan, with Dewey & LeBoeuf laterals, hiring 65 former Dewey lawyers in total in the U.S. and abroad.
Both Milone and McKeon say there's been no concerted strategy to swoop in as others fail, but that in each instances circumstances have arisen that were in line with firm's existing growth strategy.
McKeon has spent her entire career at Morgan Lewis, joining the firm in 1981 after graduating from Villanova University School of Law (Milone, then a young partner, is among those she spoke to during interviews). Over the years, she has helped lead the Philadelphia litigation practice, and later the entire group, served on the compensation, professional evaluation, and recruiting committees, and been a longstanding member of the firm's advisory board. In 2011, she helped create a new associate training program along with client Matthew Biben, general counsel of JPMorgan Chase's consumer and community banking division, that sees a few associates each year start their career at the banking giant before coming back to Morgan Lewis.
"She has a unique gift for forming relationships with people and bonding with people that I think has made her not only a great business generator but a tremendously talented and visionary leader," says James Pagliaro, a managing partner of the firm who has worked with McKeon for three decades and preceded her as litigation department head. Pagliaro says McKeon pays attention to details like the names of client's children or a partner's birthday in a way that makes everyone around here feel valued.
McKeon's enthusiasm has helped Morgan Lewis recruit top talent, including George Terwilliger III, a white-collar defense veteran and former acting U.S. attorney general who joined the firm in 2012 from White & Case. Says Terwilliger: "To put is succinctly, Jami is one of the principal reasons I came to the firm."
By McKeon's account, the leadership roles have been something she was asked to fill, rather than titles she actively sought out. "You’re invited (to lead) as part of your service to the firm," she says.
Milone echoes that attitude. "I have a very simple philosophy; I try to make all decisions on the basis of what’s best for the firm," he says. "I may be wrong, I may be foolish, but I try to do them for the right reason. Most of the time, it ends up being the right decision."
Sara Randazzo is a reporter with The Am Law Daily, a Recorder affiliate.