Peter Furci has a tough act to follow as he prepares to take the helm at one of the most storied Wall Street law firms amid rising competition in the high-end legal services market.
“It’s a constant battle for preserving market share and gaining market share,” said Furci, who was named the firm’s next presiding partner on Monday. “It’s a constant battle to win the war for associate talent, to attract people, to explain to them why your proposition is more valuable than someone else,” he said.
Furci, co-chair of its global tax practice, succeeds Michael Blair, who has led the firm since 2011 and is set to leave at the end of this year after reaching the partnership’s mandatory retirement age.
Under Blair’s tenure, Debevoise’s gross revenue has grown nearly 98% from $675 million to more than $1.3 billion last year, according to figures from the American Lawyer. The firm’s profits per equity partner jumped 141% from less than $2.1 million to just north of $5 million in 2021.
Nicole Mesard, deputy chair of the firm’s corporate practice and chair of the firm’s hiring committee, will become its deputy presiding partner. She succeeds Bruce Yannett who will continue to chair the firm’s white collar and regulatory defense group.
The pair takes over leadership of the 91-year old firm at a time of record profitability for the nation’s top law firms, along with an increasingly competitive landscape.
“I think every single aspect of running a firm is incredibly competitive today, your clients have probably more choice or providers than they’ve ever had,” Furci said in an interview with Bloomberg Law.
The firm’s new leadership says Debevoise will stick to what’s worked, including its seniority-based compensation system.
Debevoise is one of two firms that still uses the lockstep model, along with Wall Street’s Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. Its New York peer firms, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Cravath Swaine & Moore, have recently adopted a modified lockstep system.
“One of the advantages that [Mesard] and I have, is that although these external areas are highly competitive, the internal environment, given our culture and given our system, is incredibly supportive and collaborative,” Furci said.
Furci and Mesard officially start their new roles July 1.
Mary Jo White, longtime Debevoise partner and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will continue as senior chair of the firm.
Furci, who joined Debevoise in 1995, works with private equity and corporate clients on M&A, investment fund formation and general corporate transactions.
He has represented Resonetics in its acquisition of EaglePicher Medical Power, KKR in the formation of KKR Global Infrastructure Investors IV, a $17 billion global infrastructure fund, and Spirit Airlines in its $6.6 billion merger with Frontier Group Holdings.
Mesard, a real estate partner who has been with the firm for more than two decades, has advised clients on acquisitions and sales, financings, joint ventures, secondaries and restructurings.
She recently advised Global Atlantic on its recapitalization of Drawbridge Realty’s $1.7 billion portfolio of office properties and was a part of the Debevoise team that helped hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen in his $2.4 billion acquisition of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.
Both will continue to practice in their new roles, Furci said.
Mesard said she will continue to focus on talent in the new role.
She helped develop a partnership with Columbia University’s business school to train incoming associates and craft a new feedback system for associates.
“Advising, mentorship, creating the diverse and inclusive environment that we want for the firm, that our clients expect and that our associates demand and putting all the pieces of the puzzle together—It’s something that [Furci] and I are going to continue to work on,” she said.
Furci will lead a a workforce that has been largely remote during the coronavirus pandemic. The firm is currently asking its lawyers to be in the office three days a week.
“Every business organization that’s been operating with a work from home over the past two years has lost some of their cultural glue,” Furci said. “One of the most important things for me is for us to strengthen the bonds that we have, reinforce the cultural theme, and make people excited about feeling connected to something,” he said.
He said the firm’s value proposition is key to navigating the market.
For clients, the firm’s strengths are “a uniformity of excellence across the capabilities that they need, no internal impediments to accessing those capabilities given our system and a pretty concentrated focus on our part on a number of industries that we prioritize,” he said, noting private equity and insurance as two examples.
“Our value proposition to our people is really there is no better place to work, to be trained, to be mentored,” he said.