Mr Merger’s legacy in the balance

The tectonic plates of the global legal market shifted an inch or two last week when the replacement of one of the world’s most iconic law firm leaders was confirmed.

Matt Byrne

Mitch Zuklie, a clean tech specialist at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, will take over the reins from incumbent Ralph Baxter as chairman of the firm on 1 January 2014. He will have big shoes to fill.

Baxter has been in situ at the head of Orrick since 1990. He will have served eight three-year terms when he steps down at the end of next year. The announcement of his replacement – made 18 months after Baxter announced he would be retiring in 2013 – immediately prompted thoughts about the legacy of one of the legal market’s biggest personalities. There’s a certain irony in that the true legacy of the man known to many as ‘Mr Merger’ after a lengthy string of deals may prove to be his decision not to merge with Dewey Ballantine (later Dewey & LeBoeuf) in 2007.

Ultimately, however, it will be the fact that under his guidance Orrick, powered initially by structured finance, has grown from just another US West Coast-headquartered outfit to a worldwide name.

Still, for Baxter, mergers have always been the name of the game. But, to UK eyes at least, a roadblock to Orrick being viewed as a major international player is its consistently turbulent London office. Baxter knows better than anyone that the right deal with a UK firm could solve a lot of problems.

He got close with SJ Berwin, but merger talks ended in May 2010. If he wants to seal his legacy this side of the pond he has 14 months to do it.

Read next week’s issue for our focus on Orrick and interview with Baxter.

Meanwhile, this week we report on The Lawyer’s European awards, which were held last month in Monte Carlo. In particular we focus on the success of Germany’s Noerr, which won two prizes including European Law Firm of the Year.

And we highlight the extraordinary story of Tinu Adeshile, who converted to Islam two months after taking on the job of general counsel at the Islam Channel.