Morgan Lewis' firm chair Jami McKeon explains why her global firm treasures its Philly roots and how consolidation in the market has created other large international contenders.
Chambers Associate: What are the current key industry sectors for lawyers in Philadelphia?
Jami McKeon: The Philadelphia market is vibrant. We benefit from having the stability and support of a dozen Fortune 500 companies and the innovative energy from new and emerging biotech and technology startups. Home to more than 100,000 companies spanning the arts, insurance, energy, defense, financial services, healthcare, food, transportation and pharmaceutical industries, lawyers here cater to the full spectrum of an entity’s legal needs. In the last decade, the city has become a launching pad for startups in technology, life sciences, and other sectors. Thanks to targeted initiatives on the city and state level, we are also a top US region for middle market businesses. At Morgan Lewis, we are proud to be a full service law firm that provides clients of all sizes and industries with comprehensive legal services, from corporate and transactional to litigation and regulatory services.
CA: Which practice areas are currently thriving in Morgan Lewis’ Philadelphia office?
JM: As the leading global law firm in Philadelphia, Morgan Lewis hosts several market leading practices, including private and registered investment funds; labor, employment & benefits; commercial litigation; antitrust; private client; emerging businesses; and intellectual property. Our corporate investigations/compliance practice includes two former United States Attorneys and numerous former government prosecutors, and is recognized as the leading practice in Philadelphia. Our command of corporate work is equally impressive with our transactional lawyers in Pennsylvania handling complex divestitures, financings, securities, M&A, private equity fund formations and transactions, and commercial and outsourcing arrangements for clients across the globe.
"Home to more than 100,000 companies spanning the arts, insurance, energy, defense, financial services, healthcare, food, transportation and pharmaceutical industries, lawyers here cater to the full spectrum of an entity’s legal needs."
CA: How has the Philadelphia legal market evolved over the past five years?
JM: While Morgan Lewis has grown to have 31 offices in four continents, we treasure our Philadelphia roots and our 146-year reputation as the preeminent global law firm founded in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We are the world’s largest law firm led by a woman, and while we receive many recognitions, one we hold dear is the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s prestigious Paradigm award in 2019.
With our history, we’ve witnessed the evolution of the Philadelphia legal market. We continue to see law firm combinations, and truly regional firms are less common. The few remaining large firms in Philadelphia are global.
CA: How would you describe the competition between firms in the Philadelphia legal market?
JM: There are a wide variety of firms in the Philadelphia legal market and they all occupy different spaces. We compete for talent and new business with the few other global firms which also have offices in Philadelphia.
"With our history, we’ve witnessed the evolution of the Philadelphia legal market. We continue to see law firm combinations, and truly regional firms are less common. The few remaining large firms in Philadelphia are global."
CA: What do you think the Philadelphia legal market will look like in five years’ time?
JM: Given the current pandemic, we suspect that combinations and the financial stress of economic downturn will inevitably leave fewer players in the market. On balance, we are confident the city’s gritty spirit will enable it to stand the test of time.
Those firms that are agile and invest in the long term wisely will persevere. In terms of investments, in addition to investing in our people, some of Morgan Lewis’s long-term investments will continue to involve technology solutions. Technology is an ally and a pressure point for firms. We have established a Chief Knowledge Management & Practice Services Officer role, and, using AI and automation, are developing practice services solutions to empower us. These tech-assisted solutions will transform how we operate related to document drafting, transactional document analysis, attorney-client collaboration, and work product management. We also continue to use and improve development resources that collapse the distance between our lawyers’ ideas and client-ready solutions.
CA: What effects do you think Covid-19 will have on the Philadelphia legal marketplace in both the short and long term?
JM: Throughout this pandemic, we have experienced market impacts similar to other legal markets and large firms, including an uptick in representations relating to labor, healthcare, commercial and insurance litigation, and finance and restructuring. Our multidisciplinary crisis management team, which handles investigations, enforcement actions, and litigation, also is responding to higher demand. To combat the economic and global upset brought on by the pandemic, Morgan Lewis presciently established our COVID-19 Task Force to address the tsunami of client needs. As the Shelter-In-Place (SIP) orders rippled across the country and globe, we created nine state-specific SWAT teams. Today, nearly two months later, our aggregate regional and subject matter task forces—nearly 30 teams strong and growing daily—includes many Philadelphia lawyers who play a critical role in our firm’s rapid response and as contributors to our robust Resource Page that houses our comprehensive thought leadership to help clients in real time.
"Philadelphia has a vibrant and very well established legal community. It is the fifth largest city in the United States, is home to national sports teams, a booming business district, world-class cultural attractions and restaurants, an Ivy League university and multiple world-leading academic medical centers."
In the short-term, the pandemic has necessitated law firms to adapt to remote working. We are no different. Almost overnight, Morgan Lewis transitioned to a remote working environment for a 4,000+ workforce across the world. We’ve adjusted work processes and how we connect with one another and how we connect with clients to accommodate the “new normal.” We have been deeply moved by the people in our law firm and by our clients. Whether it is surprising a colleague with a home-delivered meal, or helping a client shift gears to manufacture desperately needed Personal Protective Equipment or organization food donations for local shelters, we are looking out for one another. There is no doubt that the pandemic has fueled stronger connections and ties. Long-term, we believe COVID-19 will spearhead new ways to work, as well as give lawyers experience in responding to a crisis that touches virtually every industry.
During a recession, some firms look to seize opportunity while others look for a life raft. As a firm solidly in the former category, we intend to continue on our current trajectory. Morgan Lewis’s COVID-19 task force has been an integral part of many of our clients’ response to this pandemic. The cross-discipline team provide a seamless, one-stop-shop for clients. We devised truly creative, cost-effective fee structures that made sense to clients for all of the unique issues, guidance, and projects arising out of this pandemic. Clients appreciate this sort of assurance during a time of uncertainty.
CA: What distinguishes the Philadelphia market in comparison to other US legal markets?
JM: Philadelphia has a vibrant and very well established legal community. It is the fifth largest city in the United States, is home to national sports teams, a booming business district, world-class cultural attractions and restaurants, an Ivy League university and multiple world-leading academic medical centers. Given these attributes, from a legal perspective, Philadelphia offers lawyers opportunities for work in virtually every practice area. The corporate community provides ample financial and corporate work. With neighboring Delaware 20 miles away, Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyers routinely have cases in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, and other strong practice areas are commercial litigation, intellectual property, insurance and healthcare, labor and employment, antitrust, real estate, and municipal and bond work.
As the largest law firm in Philadelphia, Morgan Lewis is a staple in the community with a strong alumni network. Our pro bono efforts underscore the power of our partnerships in the Commonwealth and we take great pride in our pro bono work with 100% participation by all eligible lawyers.
With neighboring Delaware 20 miles away, Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyers routinely have cases in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, and other strong practice areas are commercial litigation, intellectual property, insurance and healthcare, labor and employment, antitrust, real estate, and municipal and bond work.
We also recently made a huge commitment to the city, signing on as the sole tenant of a new office tower ready in 2023 that will be the first commercial office building in Philadelphia’s central business district in decades that is not a Comcast Corporation building. Adding to the recent development in that part of the city, the custom space allows for alternate work environments promoting wellness and collaboration.
CA: What do you think are the main pull factors to the Philadelphia market for law students and lateral talent?
JM: With Philadelphia, you get everything you want in a large city without the negatives of long commutes and an exorbitant cost of living. The quality of life to cost-of-living ratio is a big draw. We see numerous transplants from other cities who partake in all the city has to offer from performances at The Kimmel Center to the National Constitution Center to Philadelphia 76s, Phillies, Flyers and Eagles games. We have a bustling restaurant and music scene. Plus, its close proximity to Washington, DC, and New York afford residents the advantage of settling down in a place with convenient access to two other world-class business and cultural centers.