Paul Hastings is welcoming its first new leader in more than two decades Monday as Frank Lopez steps into the role as the law firm’s chairman.
Lopez, head of the firm’s global securities and capital markets practice, succeeds Seth Zachary, who presided over meteoric growth that topped out last year with $1.6 billion in gross revenue and partner profits of over $4.7 million. Zachary will remain a partner at Paul Hastings.
“Seth did a great job of leading the firm and growing it and diversifying it,” said Ralph Baxter, former leader of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “For a lot of people, they don’t know the firm before Seth Zachary.”
Paul Hastings named Lopez as its next leader last year, along with Washington-based partner Sherrese Smith, who succeeds Greg Nitzkowski as managing partner.
The firm had tapped London partner Ronan O’Sullivan to replace Zachary, but O’Sullivan last year decided against it for what the firm said were personal reasons.
Lopez steps in after a relatively short stretch as a partner at the firm. He’s already taken a hands-on approach to continuing to grow Paul Hastings, which he joined less than four years ago.
From California to Global
Paul Hastings, founded in Los Angeles in 1951, grew to become one of the premier law firms on the West Coast. It focused on business law, real estate, litigation and tax, and established one of country’s preeminent labor and employment practices.
Zachary, who led Paul Hastings’ New York office, was first elected to lead the firm in 2000. In June of that year, the Paul Hastings combined with New York’s 120-lawyer Battle Fowler, cementing its bi-coastal growth plan and paving the way for continued expansion.
“Seth is one of those transformational figures that has been not only instrumental to our firm’s progress under his leadership, but also a generational leader in the broader legal industry,” Lopez said in an email.
“His ability to constantly adapt and resist complacency was the engine for extraordinary success,” Lopez said.
Over Zachary’s more than two decades at the helm of Paul Hastings, the firm grew from nine offices to 21 and from 654 lawyers to nearly 1,000 last year. As the firm grew, financial success followed, as revenue tripled and partner profits skyrocketed.
Now Lopez and Smith will guide the firm and work closely on a daily basis to execute their “shared vision” and the firm’s strategy, Lopez said.
“Our goal is to continue our success and progress from a financial perspective, build prestigious practices with attorneys that provide distinguished intellectual capital and superior execution to our clients,” he said. They’ll do this “while fostering an entrepreneurial environment and culture of collaboration.”
Lopez joined the firm in 2019 from Proskauer Rose as co-leader of its securities and capital markets practice. He has advised the likes of Jefferies—where he had a short stint as a banker—as well as Citigroup, JPMorgan and Credit Suisse.
The firm’s capital markets revenue jumped 85% in three years with Lopez at the helm, according to Paul Hastings. It also saw the addition of rival talent like Jonathan Ko, a Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom partner and SPAC specialist, and Chris DeCresce, Covington & Burling’s capital markets group chief.
Smith, the incoming managing partner, joined Paul Hastings in 2013 from the Federal Communications Commission, where she served as chief counsel to then-Chairman Julius Genachowski. Prior to joining the FCC, she served as vice president and general counsel at Washington Post Digital for over seven years.
“Growth is a top priority for us,” Lopez said, adding that the firm is focused on both organic and lateral growth.
Lopez and Smith have already been involved in some high-profile hires this year.
In March, Paul Hastings added a 43-lawyer restructuring group from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. The firm two months later picked up a three-partner energy transition group from Shearman & Sterling.
Paul Hastings followed those moves up by bringing on a four-partner finance team from Latham & Watkins in London. The group includes Mo Nurmohamed, who was co-chair of Latham’s London finance department and now serves as co-chair of Paul Hastings’ global finance practice.
It has also added Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partners Avi Weitzman and Eduardo Gallardo, who now serves as co-chair of Paul Hastings’ mergers and acquisitions practice.
The firm has also seen its share of departures amid the leadership transition.
Kenneth Breen, the chair of its white collar group, and partner Phara Guberman jumped to Cadwalader Wickerham & Taft in New York last month. Litigation partner Samuel Cooper left for Shearman & Sterling in Texas.
O’Sullivan, the lawyer originally tapped as the firm’s next chairman, also recently exited Paul Hastings. So did Teri O’Brien, the former co-chair of the firm’s global securities and capital markets who had been elected to serve as managing partner alongside O’Sullivan before he bowed out.
Lopez and Smith ascend as several of the firm’s competitors have also welcomed new leadership.
Barbara Becker took over from longtime Gibson Dunn & Crutcher chair and managing partner Ken Doran last year. Sidley Austin named Yvette Ostolaza as chair of it’s management committee, replacing Larry Barden earlier this year. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett made Alden Millard chair of its executive committee, succeeding Bill Dougherty.
New leaders are increasingly taking a proactive approach to running their firms, said Robert Delicate and Erica Lehman, co-founders of the New York-based recruitment firm Erica Robert Associates.
“One trend we are seeing is more hands-on involvement from firm chairs when it comes to meeting, and recruiting, top-tier partners,” they said in an email.
The challenge for new leaders is to establish a connection with the firm’s partners, said Baxter, who led Orrick for over 20 years. Becoming the new leaders in their own right that takes some doing in a law firm, he said.
“The dynamic between the firm leader and the lawyers is truly a leader-follower kind of relationship,” Baxter said. “Followers are only followers by consent.”
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