Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 4, September 2021

Message From the Executive Committee

Have you experienced a greater appreciation lately for the things you used to take for granted? I have. Downing a cup of coffee and leaving the house for work feels better than ever. I’m happy knowing we are all back in the office and spurred by how wonderful that feels. This past year helped me realize how much the people of Marshall Dennehey mean to me and how much better I am around them. I look forward each day to the boost I get from the folks I’m fortunate to work alongside.

Our sense of community, and all its positive energy, is back. Across the firm, hallways are louder as attorneys, paralegals, and support staff linger to talk, laugh and check in on one another. We have gone back to holding doors and sharing elevators. And in our kitchens, baked goods, pizza and all kinds of unhealthy treats have reappeared. It’s marvelous!

There really is an antidote for much of the frustration and fatigue we have come to experience in the past year. Just look up. Look up and take stock of all we have to be grateful for. Do that and you’ll find it impossible to be grateful and discouraged at the same time.

When I look around I smile, thinking of the 17 new attorneys we recently onboarded at Marshall Dennehey. I told them during an in-person orientation that they had chosen an exceptional firm that does exceptional things. I meant and declared it with conviction because I know it to be true. I am both grateful to say that and for the talented lawyers I was able to say it to.

Whether you are a client or an employee of Marshall Dennehey, I want you to feel good about what this firm stands for and know you are part of something special.

You enable us, when others falter, to step forward and lead. And we are grateful. It is because of you we press on, always striving to do the right thing, regardless of circumstance. And it is why, I believe, we are blessed to be an exceptional firm.

Think about this, last year Marshall Dennehey was able to accomplish what 95% of the Am Law 200 could not.

This prestigious group, among which we are proud to be ranked, represent the 200 largest, most successful law firms in the country. The best of the best. And yet last year, when faced with adversity, they flinched.

Ninety-five percent of these firms opted to lay off or cut the pay of their employees. The majority did both.

I am grateful we took a different path.

At Marshall Dennehey, we determined to take care of each other. We committed to keeping our entire 1,200-member family together, safe, fully employed and fully paid. It is a commitment from which we have never wavered. And it’s something we achieved without PPP, stimulus checks or bank loans.

We did it through hard work, shared sacrifice and a healthy dose of providence. Facing an uncertain future, our shareholders put the pursuit of good before the pursuit of profit. Everyone participating in our 401(K) plan gave up their employer match. We deferred employer-paid social security taxes and we saved on expenses. And together we did what our peers did not. We avoided layoffs, pay cuts, and the hardship those measures would have imposed on our employees and their families. We chose character over compromise. We did what was right and emerged grateful and intact from the largest threat to ever confront our 59-year-old firm.

Why do I think we’re exceptional? Why am I grateful to work at Marshall Dennehey? Because putting us ahead of me has always been part of our culture. Instilled by our founders, it’s a guiding principle that provides clarity, calmness and strength. And our resolve to follow that tenet makes all the difference.

Putting us ahead of me explains our distinct pay structure. Marshall Dennehey doesn’t compensate its lawyers based on origination. A recent ALM Intelligence survey found that 83% of law firms still do. This is a tired but pervasive practice in which the lawyer who first touched (or originated) the client receives credit, often in perpetuity, for all subsequent assignments. He or she might then share credit with the lawyer who grows the account and/or the attorney who performs most of the client’s legal work. The lawyers are then paid on the basis of these “originations.”

These systems encourage hoarding. They create incentives and shape behaviors that are me-focused and counter to most clients’ interest. Lawyers end up disregarding venue, subject matter expertise or experience, all in an effort to retain a file and preserve origination credit.

At Marshall Dennehey, we’d rather focus on client-oriented performance. Spurning origination credit allows us to easily assign the right matter to the right lawyer in the right location. Our lawyers are also able to specialize in distinct areas of law such as ride sharing, employment, insurance coverage or appellate advocacy. By contrast, where compensation is based on origination, lawyers tend to juggle multiple disciplines in an effort to keep matters under their own name.

Our unique approach puts our clients’ interest first but also fosters sharing, team work and trust among our lawyers, putting us ahead of me and strengthening the firm.

This past year, as the world staggered from order to disorder, it was putting us ahead of me that galvanized and drove our firm to recalibrate, remain ahead of the curve and continue providing clients superior legal services. I’m still in awe of what our people, working together, were able to accomplish.

The firm’s IT department scaled our remote work capacity almost overnight to serve more than 1,100 employees working from home—including nearly 500 administrative staff who had never before worked remotely. Our finance department got immediately to work bringing innovation, digitization and greater efficiency to invoicing while our lawyers learned to market, litigate and resolve cases virtually, successfully and as never before. In fact, it was Marshall Dennehey attorneys who led the way when first virtual and then socially distanced, in-person civil jury trials resumed.

Here in Philadelphia, putting us ahead of me meant a legal aid clinic, founded and continuously staffed by our firm since 2015, pushed through a pandemic and continued operating virtually with a dedicated team of volunteer attorneys spanning associates to senior management.

Putting us ahead of me accounts for why Marshall Dennehey was one of only a few firms in the country to honor its commitment to law students and run a fully intact, multi-state Summer Associate program last year, something it’s doing again this summer.

Putting us ahead of me explains why we continued to provide opportunity when other firms were laying people off, onboarding 67 new attorneys in the past year and a half.

And when asked what we were doing returning to the office while others sat at home—putting us ahead of me - became our proud reply.

It is something we did with a sense of urgency, balancing risk with obligation to our employees, our clients and our future. Working together, we brought back 20 offices across six different states safely, methodically and without any incidence of outbreak. These offices have now been up and running for months.

Which brings me back to where I started—looking up and seeing the value of community. To say it’s important is a gross understatement. To Marshall Dennehey, community is everything. It is what enlightens and protects us as an organization. It is what holds us accountable, teaches, refines, motivates and encourages us. It is in community that we are informed, that we collaborate, improve as a law firm and better serve our clients.

It’s a notion we have always grasped and one that’s catching on. It was reported earlier this month that Morgan Stanley’s CLO, Eric Gross, recently delivered a message to outside counsel, declaring the legal industry’s apprenticeship model vital to the development of young lawyers. He noted “individual lawyers learn and perform best and collectively deliver the best results when they are together -actually together.” He went on to opine that “...firms that return to the office will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not, and will see that advantage reflected in their client service and ability to deliver successful outcomes...”

We agree and have always known we’re better together.

That being said, we also see the value of flexibility and are trying to strike the right balance. Long before the pandemic, Marshall Dennehey had developed and implemented a remote work program for attorneys. Inspired by its success and our experience last year, we have now expanded the program to include paralegals and administrative staff. At present, we are operating under a hybrid model and seeking the right mix. Our attorneys and paralegals are required to come into the office at least three days a week and our administrative staff four. Everyone can otherwise work remotely. It’s a popular arrangement that emphasizes community while still affording some flexibility.

It appears to be working well.

Which can also be said of our firm.

I hope after reading this you have a better understanding of what we stand for, what makes Marshall Dennehey special and why I am so grateful to be its CEO. Our story is a powerful proof of concept: no matter what we face, we can do the right thing and still succeed.


Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 4, September 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact