Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
David Taylor has spent his entire legal career at Locke Lord, and was the managing partner of its Houston office before becoming the firm chair on January 1, 2018. Taylor has more than three decades of experience representing public and private companies in a broad range of corporate and securities matters, with a strong focus on securities offerings and disclosures, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and board of director matters.
Bloomberg Law spoke to Taylor about opportunity and volatility in uncertain times, how leaders should give people the authority they need to succeed, and the thrill of crafting his first IPO as a young associate.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?
David Taylor: This year has spurred immense change within our industry and throughout the world. While our workforce has been physically apart for much of it, a few traits have proven to hold us together and propel us forward. We have remained united and aligned around providing the highest level of service to our clients, particularly across our five key sectors — energy and infrastructure, finance and financial services, insurance and reinsurance, pharmaceutical and private equity — which draw upon a wide array of skills and experience from practice areas across the firm. Coupled with our strong presence in key markets, we are well-positioned to help our clients succeed in this ever-evolving landscape. Our collective culture of collegiality, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and resilience has shined and remains a hallmark of this firm. Having been with Locke Lord for my entire career of more than 31 years, I can attest that our people are truly second to none.
BL: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing in your practice area?
DT: The unknown creates both opportunity and volatility. Across our practice areas, we are focused on anticipating our clients’ needs 10 days, 10 weeks, and 10 months from now, and strategizing to further elevate the quality and depth of legal services they expect from us. Today’s uncertain environment has taken our clients through twists and turns, and we are helping them seize new opportunities and overcome challenges along the way. Similarly, leading and managing the firm today presents its own set of challenges. To meet them head on, and to leverage what we’ve learned from the pandemic, we have formed a Business Transformation Task Force charged with re-imagining ways to maximize the quality, efficiency, and profitability of our legal services without compromising our culture. They are looking at a number of key areas, such as client service and technology, recruitment, development and training, and several others.
BL: You lead a large law firm, and have also had several other smaller scale leadership positions, like head of the Houston office and capital markets section. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned through all those roles and how are you applying them now?
DT: As we work to transform into the firm of the future, leveraging a diverse spectrum of knowledge, experience, and perspectives is crucial. A few key leadership lessons I live by are particularly instrumental today: surround yourself with people smarter than you, identify their strengths and delegate accordingly, giving them the authority they need to succeed; require excellence, but give grace for errors of effort; and communicate with your people as much as possible to engender trust and reinforce that they are an important part of something bigger. These uncertain and unprecedented times have challenged us to be agile and learn as we go, and as leaders, we have to trust in this process and our people.
BL: What is your favorite war story from your career/practice?
DT: I’ve done a lot of public company mergers. Every big public company deal is invigorating and packed with challenges and issues that are important to stakeholders — but seeing smaller businesses achieve big goals is most satisfying to me. Nothing beats the first initial public offering that I was responsible for preparing and shepherding through the process. In the 1990s before EDGAR, as an associate at Locke Lord, I sat down with the company’s CFO and drafted from scratch the company’s story and why it would be an excellent investment opportunity. From crafting the prospectus, to ensuring all requirements of the initial registration statement filing were met, to shepherding the filing through SEC comments and the underwriting process, that opportunity remains among the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my career.
BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his/her Big Law career?
DT: Be hungry, teachable, and entrepreneurial. Be proactive and take your career where you want it to go. Always prioritize client service — but at the same time, dedicate yourself to serving your colleagues and adding value to your team. Intellect, skill, ingenuity, and drive will serve you very well, but to succeed in any organization, you must also embody its culture. This is easiest to achieve when you choose a firm or organization that is the right fit for you personally and professionally, and you commit to grow and evolve along with it.