Pillsbury announces new chair, to be based in D.C.

LOS ANGELES DAILY JOURNAL

Thursday, October 1, 2015

By Deirdre Newman

Though based on the East Coast, the incoming chair of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is adamant that California will remain a primary focus of the global law firm.

David T. Dekker, whom Pillsbury announced Tuesday as the successor to the firm’s current chair James M. Rishwain Jr., will take over the position in 2017 out of Washington, D.C. Rishwain announced in late April that he would step down at the end of next year.

“Pillsbury is seen around the world as a California-based firm and it’s a critical part of our firm going forward,” Dekker said in an interview Tuesday, adding that he intends to spend a significant amount of time in the firm’s California offices.

Dekker, who specializes in civil litigation and dispute resolution and has been with Pillsbury for about five years, was selected by the firm’s 12-member board of directors to be the vice-chair and then take over as chair in early 2017. Dekker will be the first chair outside of California since Pillsbury merged with Winthrop Stimson in 2001 and Shaw Pittman in 2005.

Legal recruiter Sandy Lechtick noted that other firms, including Paul Hastings LLP and O’Melveny & Myers LLP, have also chosen new leaders who are based on the East Coast. Choosing an East Coast-based chair reflects Pillsbury’s strategy to be a global law firm, but may shift attention away from California, he said.

“If one looks at Pillsbury’s expansion in China and other parts of the world, I think there’s a shift that more of the center of gravity will be on the East Coast, not in California,” he said. “I think that shift has been happening for the last several years.”

Pillsbury’s announcement about Dekker comes amid news reports that the firm is in discussions to merge with New York-based Chadbourne & Parke LLP. Legal expert Larry Watanabe theorized that the report of Dekker’s appointment is directly connected to the Chadbourne discussions.

“In my opinion, Pillsbury was forced to announce the new chair pending the Chadbourne news break,” he said. “You cannot merge a firm without the leadership of an ongoing chairman, and with Rishwain [and his pending departure], they didn’t have a choice.”

But Rishwain adamantly stated there is “absolutely no connection between choosing David and any kind of strategic or material initiative going forward.” A media spokesperson at Chadbourne could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Pillsbury just came off its most profitable year in 2014, according to firm leaders, and Dekker expressed his desire to grow the firm even more.

“We look at our client base, which I think is unmatched, but in a number of cases we don’t do as much for these clients as we should do,” he said. “If we had a little deeper bench of attorneys, we could capture more work.”

Pillsbury already is well-situated and has the infrastructure to obtain more revenue growth, Dekker said, noting the firm’s recent investment in a national operations center in Nashville to help the firm slash global costs.

“We have no debt, we’re well-capitalized and we like our real estate position, in terms of leases,” he said.

In terms of international growth, he will likely continue the firm’s slow, cautious approach, he said.

“I think a lot of firms have expanded too quickly and got burned going into markets without adequate demand,” he said.

Lechtick characterized the challenges Dekker will face as similar to those confronting all global law firms, specifically the recruitment of talent.

“For sure, one of the challenges that [Dekker] will be faced with is to attract partners that can help them grow in key practice areas like corporate, IP and complex business litigation,” he said.

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