Four names emerge as contenders to succeed Orrick CEO Baxter

Four US partners have emerged as front runners to replace long-time Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman Ralph Baxter when he retires next year.

The firm has narrowed down candidates to fill Baxter’s role to Los Angeles-based finance partner Alan Benjamin; Walter Brown, a white-collar litigator in San Francisco; James Stengel, a mass torts and product liability litigator in New York; and Mitchell Zuklie, a technology-focused corporate lawyer in Silicon Valley, writes The AmLaw Daily.

Baxter announced his intention to step down at the end of 2013 around a year and a half ago.

All four of the partners being considered were recruited to Orrick as laterals during Baxter’s reign. And while the four offer little in the way of gender or ethnic diversity, they do represent a cross-section of the firm’s locations and practice areas.

The two litigators – Brown, 53, and Stengel, 56 – are described as old-fashioned trial attorneys with busy practices that may be hard to set aside if either is called on to be leader. Brown is a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who routinely handles high-profile white-collar cases, including several stock options back dating scandals in the past decade.

Stengel joined Orrick in New York in 1998 when his former firm, the now-defunct Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine, was on the verge of collapse in the wake of failed merger talks with Orrick.

More than a decade younger than the others, Zuklie, 43, has made a name for himself working on the formation and financing of technology companies, carving out a niche specifically in the clean technology sector before the recent rush into that market.

Benjamin, 59, has been at the firm the longest but appears to be the least well-known of the four. He focuses on financial transactions and restructuring matters, often involving the gaming industry.

A 1994 lateral from Morrison & Foerster, where he served as Los Angeles managing partner for more than a year, Benjamin has taken on a slew of operations-side management positions at Orrick. Those roles included serving as one of four managing directors; serving on the executive committee from 1997 to 2001; chairing the private finance and banking and finance practice groups; and serving as the firm’s chief financial officer in 2009 and 2010. He currently chairs of the committee that oversees the firm’s finances.

In the 22 years since Baxter took on the chairman and CEO role, he has in many ways tried to make the firm look more like a corporation than a traditional partnership. He has done so in part by ceasing his law practice to focus on management, always stressing the bottom line as a top priority. Baxter, 65, has also positioned himself into a voice of the legal industry, routinely speaking out about what he believes ails the profession and making changes-including launching a back office in Wheeling, West Virginia, scrapping lockstep advancement for associates, downplaying profits per partner, and embracing alternative fee arrangements-in an attempt to set Orrick apart.

None of the four candidates returned calls for comment, and publicly the firm will only acknowledge that, per Orrick’s partnership agreement, a nominating committee has been formed that will identify Baxter’s successor. The committee hopes to announce its pick to the full partnership at the firm’s annual January partners’ meeting, says Orrick chief operating officer Reid Horovitz.

A version of this article first appeared in The AmLaw Daily, an affiliate title of Legal Week