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After 28-Year Run, Big Law Chair Steps Down at 60

Nov. 18, 2015, 7:32 PM

Gary LeClair, who founded the law firm LeClairRyan in 1988 and has run the firm as its chairman for 28 years, is stepping down.

LeClair, 60, is completing his final five-year cycle as chairman and on Dec. 31 will return to practicing full-time with his law firm and relinquish management responsibilities.

“At 50, you can pretend 50 is the new 40, but at 60, you can’t pretend that anymore,” said LeClair. “You suddenly realize there are more days behind you than there are ahead of you.”

LeClair said that the transition was part of a succession plan that had roots tracing back 10 years when the firm began planning around a new wave of leadership. He said he knew in earnest about five years ago that he would step down as chair in 2016.

[caption id="attachment_5785" align="alignleft” width="168"][Image “Gary LeClair, the outgoing chair of LeClairRyan” (src=]Gary LeClair, the outgoing chair of LeClairRyan[/caption]

“And frankly, our firm has grown and I see that we have a group of talented leaders come along, so it was time,” said LeClair.

When he steps down, the chairman position itself will disappear and the firm will be run instead by a C-Suite of leaders, spreading power among a larger number of individuals.

The C-Suite includes David Freinberg, CEO; Mike Hearn, President; Peter Mares, COO/CFO, Bruce Matson, general counsel Jennifer Mistal, senior HR director, two dept leaders, Christopher Lange, heads our corporate department, and Eric Gustafson, head of litigation, and Darren Franta, head of marketing and communications.

LeClair said these people “are fully capable of absorbing what I was doing,” and noted that “the (chair) position has slowly transferred over the past decade to other leaders at the firm.”

An ’82 graduate of Georgetown University School of Law, LeClair will continue to advise companies as securities and general counsel. He has been the lead attorney on public financing, joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions, according to his website profile .

He said that the most rewarding part of his 28 years can be found in a collection of notes he keeps at his desk.

“I have kept the firm history, and in that history, I don’t keep financial statements or our number of attorneys,” he said. “What I keep are the client thank you notes or other hoorays we do internally for winning cases or closing a deal.”

“The history of every law firm is really told by results that it has gotten for its clients,” he added.

LeClair, which has nearly 400 lawyers, is a full service commercial law firm with 25 offices, including in Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its headquarters are in Richmond, Virginia.

LeClair is just the latest of LeClair’s founding members to retire from management. In 2012, Dennis Ryan, co-founder and vice chairman of LeClairRyan, retired after 24 years and joined Health Diagnostic Laboratory , according to a Richmond news report.

(UPDATED: This post has been updated to clarify that LeClair did not retire from the firm; he is still practicing at LeClairRyan)