Making Partner in a Pandemic: Clark Hill’s Kevin Washburn

April 12, 2021, 9:31 AM

I like to plan and be prepared. So, one can imagine how Covid-19 initially derailed my plans for becoming a partner at Clark Hill, a goal that I had worked so hard towards. In addition to keeping up my hours and generating business, I was home schooling my five-year-old daughter, who was thrilled to have me at home. Suddenly, juggling preparing lunch, helping with math and reading, and just trying to keep a five-year-old busy between Zoom calls became the norm.

Pragmatism kicked in quickly. I took inventory of everything that I had to accomplish in a single day and made a time management strategic plan. My litigation background taught me to always be more prepared than the next person, and I set about doing just that. No matter what I had that day, I got up, got dressed and got ready for the day, just like I would have if I were going to the office.

Since I could not see my clients or get out there to meet new ones, early on I developed a Zoom Q&A focused on all things Covid-19, from relief to shutdown issues, together with colleagues from Clark Hill’s Labor & Employment and Tax groups. We initially did it every Friday for clients, potential clients, or anyone else who wanted to join. Within four weeks, we had many regular participants, with help from the firm’s marketing team, who promoted it on social media. By structuring this not as a business pitch, but as, “we’re in this together, and here’s a place to come and get good information,” it was friendly and informal.

I also did regular Zoom “wellness checks” with various internal groups, reaching out to junior associates to make sure that they were relatively happy, healthy, and moving forward. It was a stressful time for all, each dealing with our own issues.

Detroit Shuts Down

During all this, one of my greatest concerns was the immediate and complete shutdown of any deals whatsoever in Detroit and beyond. It was like a giant lever was pulled and suddenly, nothing. As Michigan and Detroit were ordered to stay home, any pending deals came to a complete standstill.

When Covid hit, neither Michigan nor Detroit, like many other states and cities, was able to run virtually, but in response the government has instituted many positive changes that have bridged the gap. Like most industries, the real estate industry simply was not prepared to operate under a total shutdown, and thus we all had to navigate through that period before adjustments could be implemented, and things slowly got back on track.

By July/August things were getting back to normal with a degree of flexibility on everyone’s part, given the backlog of deals in the pipeline. Realistically, things were on track for Q4 and now, moving forward into 2021.

With this as background, concerns over my potential partner status were always on my mind. So, I was hugely grateful (and relieved) when I was informed that I had been chosen.

Bigger Can Be Better

Clark Hill recognized that I was able to achieve a lot of good things despite being in the middle of a global pandemic. Large firms can seem like big machines, but in the end, Clark Hill is different and truly sees and appreciates the accomplishments of its people.

Ironically, when I graduated from law school, I thought that I did not want to work in a big firm, let alone be a partner at one, and even had the mistaken belief that smaller was more approachable, and a better environment. After working at a few smaller firms, I realized that this premise was a bit naïve on several fronts, and not always the case. When I was looking for a new firm to join in 2019 as a lateral associate, I chose Clark Hill.

I had developed a national practice and needed to be at a larger firm to take it to the next level. When I started looking around, a top concern was the culture and environment, and I was relieved and impressed by Clark Hill. I’ve now learned that “Big Law” can sometimes be even more collegial than small firms and am surprised to say that Clark Hill is the easiest place I’ve ever worked in terms of the people and the culture.

Now that I’m able to do so, I’m really excited about becoming more involved with the business side and administration of the firm and taking more responsibility on that front as opportunities arise. I really enjoy the challenges of operating a business and rolling up my sleeves.

It is definitely a switch adapting from being an associate to a partner, and it was even more difficult to do so during a pandemic. I’ve been giving some thought around the best way to further push the envelope to bring in more work for junior lawyers, generate revenue, and take on some management responsibilities. All exciting challenges!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Kevin M. Washburn is a partner in Clark Hill PLC’s Real Estate and Corporate practice groups in the Detroit office. He represents buyers, sellers, investors, and lenders in sophisticated real estate and commercial transactions.

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