Jones Day has announced a new leader, and it’s—shock, shock—another old White dude.
Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s what popped in my head when I learned that Greg Shumaker is the mega law firm’s new managing partner.
I’m not suggesting that Shumaker is not deserving of the job. And to be fair, he’s hardly geriatric. Though we don’t know his exact age—the firm is as
What’s striking about this pick is that Shumaker is a virtual Mini-Me of Stephen Brogan, the firm’s iron-fisted leader for the last 20 years. Both are Jones Day lifers who are very active alumni of Notre Dame Law School.
In fact, Shumaker is the third Notre Dame Law School graduate in a row to be crowned managing partner at the firm. You have to wonder if that august Catholic law school in Indiana happens to produce exceptional firm leaders or if this is a cabal.
At a time when Big Law is eager to showcase its commitment to diversity, Jones Day is bucking the trend and opting for a decidedly retro look. But considering that Jones Day has been sued for
“This is a continuity appointment,” law firm consultant Jae Um told me. “I don’t think Jones Day prioritizes diversity in its top job.” But noting how younger lawyers take ESG issues seriously, she added, “I think it’s the talent that will be paying attention to the leadership change.”
Indeed, there were hopes that the new leader would look different as Jones Day named only the eighth managing partner in the firm’s 130-year history.
“For a while we were hoping for Traci Lovitt—she’s brilliant,” a Jones Day associate told me, commenting on the female partner who heads the firm’s issues and appeals practice. Another woman who some lawyers were rooting for, this associate said, was Karen Hewitt, the partner in charge of California.
Kevyn Orr, a Black partner who’s in charge of the firm’s Washington, D.C, office, was also thought by some to be a top contender.
“Kevyn was on the list, but when all the Trump election work that Jones Day was doing came out, he got hit the hardest because he was leading the D.C. office where the work was done,” this associate added. “He took the brunt of the associates’ frustration. After a super-contentious meeting with associates, we didn’t hear much about him being in the running.” Still, “I was hoping it’d be a woman or a person of color.”
Members of the Club
But did a woman or a person of color really have a realistic shot at the top job?
That’s hard to say. What is clear, though, is that Brogan and Shumaker have a kinship, a kind of bromance, where the personal and the professional overlap.
Brogan almost seems to take a fatherly pride in Shumaker. “I helped recruit Greg to the Firm in 1986,” Brogan noted in Jones Day’s announcement. “I could see then that he had special gifts as well as the high character that someday might permit him to lead our Firm. That day is here.”
Shumaker, for his part, plays the grateful son. “Steve Brogan has been one of the most consequential Jones Day partners in its long history,” he said in the same announcement. “I have admired his incredible and magnetic leadership skills since he interviewed me in law school more than 35 years ago.”
Shumaker’s praise is understandable, considering that Brogan hand-picked him for the top job. (Unlike most firms where partners or a committee elect the next leader, Jones Day gives the reigning leader the sole authority to choose his successor.)
And Brogan reportedly has gone out of his way to take care of members of Shumaker’s family. When Shumaker’s brother Michael (also a partner at the firm) was getting a divorce, Brogan provided him with a corporate apartment for months, according to David Enrich, the author of “Servants of the Damned,” a book about Jones Day.
“It was seen by a number of senior Jones Day partners as a sign of how Brogan played favorites, especially since Greg was perceived as the leading candidate to one day succeed Brogan,” Enrich told me.
It’s a lot—the shared cultural backgrounds, the personal affinity, and the apparent favoritism. For those who don’t belong to the club, it’s daunting. It’s what women and people of color have been saying for a long time: People in power tend to favor those who remind them of themselves.
And it’s that bias—unconscious or otherwise—that puts underrepresented groups at a disadvantage when it comes to mentoring opportunities, assignments, pay, promotion—you name it.
All this is to say that the elevation of another White man, particularly one who seems so tight with the reigning leader, is not the most encouraging signal to women, people of color, and others who don’t fit the mode. To be blunt, it smacks of cronyism.
But perhaps Shumaker will surprise us. For all we know, he might usher in a new era of transparency and progress.
Somehow, though, I don’t think change is his mandate—and that, I suppose, is exactly the message that Brogan wants to deliver.