Law Firm Leaders
In the age of COVID-19, less agile organizations have stumbled in creating virtual office arrangements while more nimble ones have adapted quickly on the fly. But the truly visionary ones are those that already were looking to the future before the threat of illness made the concept a necessity.
“As you can imagine, you can’t just launch something like that overnight,” said Gregory Smith of Husch Blackwell.
The virtual office at Smith’s firm, known as The Link, already was in development when the pandemic struck last spring. It is that kind of proactive innovation and forward thinking that has defined the native St. Louisan’s leadership at the firm, first as its CEO and now as its chair.
“Under Greg’s leadership, Husch Blackwell has emerged as a coast-to-coast AmLaw 100 law firm with an administrative structure that is fairly unique among large law firms,” his nominator wrote.
By any traditional measure, the firm has grown since its creation in a blockbuster 2008 merger. It now has a presence in Denver, Chicago, Texas and Wisconsin and is on track to break $400 million in revenue this year. But its reorganization around industry-based business units rather than traditional practice areas is what has been turning heads in the legal community.
“What we decided was that in order to better serve our clients, we needed to face our clients in the way that they face the market,” said Smith, who has chaired the firm for three years subsequent to being elected CEO in 2011. “Which is to say that rather than facing the market as a functional alignment, we needed to face the market as an industry alignment.”
That meant a focus around different areas ranging from energy and natural resources to technology, manufacturing and transportation.
“Those industry alignments are intended to make us more conversant in the business issues that face our clients and therefore, make us more efficient,” said Smith, a graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law. “We know our clients’ businesses, and we know their problems much better. We tend to get immersed in industry conferences.”
Internal changes — such as The Link, which the firm launched in July — also have been impressive. Smith said The Link has not only improved communication but also boosted recruiting because lawyers can be hired anywhere, without having to open a physical office nearby.
“It basically takes advantage of the idea that our technology has grown to a point where our interconnectivity doesn’t rely on geography,” he said. “In fact, to some extent, we think that virtual connectivity leads to better communication and better collaboration than does geography because you are much more deliberate about your communication, inclusion and collaboration. The technology allows that to happen.”
Smith’s nominator lauds his foresight as the main driver who has kept the firm a step ahead — even in 2020’s troubled times.
“He was a champion of making key investments in technology and administrative support that have been important in helping the firm adapt to the pandemic without missing a beat, even when those investments depressed the top lines of previous years,” the nominator wrote.
If 2020 proved anything, it has shown that leaders must have resilience, Smith said. It is important to get up each day and be ready to face the next challenge.
“I think unquestionably the most important thing is to identify and support good leaders around you,” he said.