White & Case appoints new chair to spearhead new era

White & Case appoints new chair to spearhead new era” />
White & Case’s appointment of Moscow head Hugh Verrier to the firmwide chairman’s position marks the culmination of the firm’s second management structure review within a decade.

As reported on www.thelawyer.com last week (6 August), project finance and banking partner Verrier was handed the role as the firm implements its longdebated three-tier management system.

Managing partner Duane Wall says that the seemingly arduous process of overhauling the management, which kicked off last year (The Lawyer, 20 March 2006), was spurred by the need to create a system that suited the global reach of the US firm.

“The new governance structure best reflects the firm that White & Case has developed into,” explains Wall. “White & Case is a large international firm and we needed to find a way to serve that effectively.”

Under the new system the position of managing partner has been replaced by that of chair, with Wall set to retire from the firm once a transitional period between him and Verrier, who has relocated to New York, is complete. The need to restructure the management was first mooted last year by Wall, who recognised that a shake-up was required alongside the search for his successor.

However, the overhaul has met with a mixed response from some lawyers at the firm, with one London-based partner saying: “It seems like a sensible way of working, although we don’t know exactly what the board will be doing and what each member will be responsible for.”

Wall stresses that Verrier will make this clear now that he has taken up his position. “We now have a chairman and the structure is implemented. It’s up to the chairman to decide how to divide responsibility and to determine how the board will operate,” he stresses.

It has not been made clear by White & Case when this process will be complete.

One partner says: “The board could divide the firm into geographical sectors, with an executive being responsible for several regions each. Decisions could also be taken and applied in terms of practice areas, which board members would be responsible for. At the moment we don’t actually know these details.”

Initially a number of options were considered by the partnership, including a two-tier management board, an extended network of regional management or the introduction of a non-lawyer into a management position. Ultimately the firm has chosen to adopt a three-tier approach.

Verrier, who will work alongside Wall for at least the next month, has been voted in by the partnership and will sit at the top of the firm’s management. His democratic ascension to the top post is, in itself, a change for the firm, as Wall was handed the managing partner role by his fellow board members, who had been elected by the partnership.

The second tier of the new structure will take the form of an executive committee, made up of three partners chosen by Verrier. The committee will take responsibility for all strategic decisions at the firm.

The final tier of the structure is given over to an eight-strong partnership committee, which will be responsible for promoting associates into the partnership. Elections for the partnership committee are still ongoing and Verrier is in the process of selecting his executive committee.

Despite the uncertainty, Wall insists that the process has run according to plan and that the management review has been a success. “This is where we want to be,” he says. “We had a well-structured plan that’s brought us to this point, and it’s good that we’ve now completed the journey.”

The management has certainly won support from Paris-based finance partner Michael Pulkinghorne, who comments: “I think the firm’s pretty happy with the result and feels the new structure will be more suited to how the firm operates. It’s clearly early days, but I think it’s likely to prove more suitable than the current structure.”