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Leading Questions: Mayer Brown Chairman Paul Theiss

Sept. 18, 2020, 9:41 AM

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.

Mayer Brown leader Paul Theiss joined the firm in 1985 and rose through the ranks to become co-leader of the firm’s corporate and securities practice, then the firm’s chair beginning in June 2012.

Theiss’ practice focuses on a broad spectrum of mergers and acquisitions and capital markets work. He advises clients on both public and private mergers and acquisitions, and serves as outside general counsel to companies as they develop and expand their businesses, advising on matters ranging from corporate governance to regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Bloomberg Law spoke to Theiss about his 35-year career at Mayer Brown, the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and how, as a young associate, he helped his beloved White Sox stay in Chicago.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?

Paul Theiss: I’ve spent my entire legal career at Mayer Brown and have been fortunate to have had a front row seat for the firm’s transformation into a global legal powerhouse through organic growth and strategic combinations.

Since the day I started at the firm after law school, serving our clients with professional excellence, creativity, and top-of-market client service has been at the core of what we do. As we became a global firm, that’s also meant that our global service model is rooted in our “one-firm” culture. The firm’s robust client team program, which we initiated more than a decade ago, is one of the foundations of our strategy. The program allows us to better understand the business and needs of our clients so that we can better serve them and establish stronger long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. At Mayer Brown, practicing law is a team sport.

BL: What is the biggest challenge currently facing your practice area?

PT: Throughout the pandemic, the biggest challenge facing most firms has been staying connected to clients and to one another. During these times, human connection is essential. And while it might be harder to connect in person, it has been so heartening to see our lawyers utilize creative tools to engage with one another—from virtual speed-networking events in Asia to socially distanced picnics and outings in Chicago and London.

Another example of how we’ve stayed connected with our clients and one another during these historically challenging times was the launch of Mayer Brown’s Virtual Pride Parade. Given the cancellation of the annual Pride parades in June, we moved the celebration online and brought together leading corporations and LGBTQ+ organizations for a first-of-its-kind series of events. Our first event, which was a discussion with in-house LGBTQ+ lawyers who spoke about how their identities have impacted their professional experiences, drew close to 400 participants. And our firm wide participation in what we are calling “Project Equity,” our urgent and lasting outward-facing initiative to make a difference in our communities in the social justice arena, is one of the ways we’re embracing our special responsibility as lawyers and legal professionals to combat systemic racism and its insidious effects.

BL: The coronavirus has sent shockwaves through Big Law. What measures are firms considering to deal with the uncertain business climate?

PT: The pace of change in our profession, and in our world, feels palpably accelerated, and each firm faces challenges that are unique to them. This period of social distancing has taught us that technology can bring us closer together, that remote working works, and that above all, we must stay agile. The pandemic has created shared challenges, creating an opportunity to partner with our clients in new ways. It has also generated opportunities to achieve efficiencies for clients—from implementing document automation processes to AI.

Whether it’s the current pandemic or the upcoming transition from LIBOR, we must continue to tune in to issues our clients are facing, which is one of our signature strengths, and provide valuable and timely resources.

BL: What is your favorite war story from your career and practice?

PT: I’ve been blessed to have quite a few “war stories” to choose from, but I’ll go with an experience from very early in my career, as a young associate at Mayer Brown. The firm was engaged to represent the Chicago/Illinois agency charged with negotiating with various parties, including the Chicago White Sox, with the goal of financing and building a new baseball stadium in order to keep the franchise from moving to Tampa, Florida. Being a lifelong White Sox fan, it was an easy decision to join the team. The weeks that followed were filled with long days and nights, culminating in the passage of state legislation—at the last minute—to keep the White Sox in Chicago.

BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his or her Big Law career?

PT: Work at a firm that has a culture of mentorship, and seek out mentors. Given the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to get proper training and guidance. Seamless client service happens because of relationships that are built through human interaction. Also, try your best to become what we call a student of the firm. Ask a lot of questions and prioritize engaging with your colleagues, including partners. And while you do all of these things, always think like a client.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Ellen Egan in New York at maryellenegan1@gmail.com

To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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