For the first time, two women sit atop a global law firm. On April 3, Therese Pritchard and Lisa Mayhew officially became co-chairs of the newly combined Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, an organization with around 1,600 lawyers spread across 32 offices in 11 countries. Pritchard, the former chair of Bryan Cave, and Mayhew, the former managing partner of the U.K.’s Berwin Leighton Paisner, recently discussed the merger and its significance.
What kind of message do you think a merger of two firms led by women sends?
TP: I think we hope it encourages other women to be willing to take on a leadership challenge like this. Obviously, more broadly, we hope that we’re hugely successful and that we demonstrate that women are in fact very effective leaders.
LM: I agree, Terry. As we see more women occupy leadership roles, more opportunities like this, I’d like to think, will arise, and it will become less noteworthy. It will no longer be a first; it will be more common.
Did the fact that you are both women play any role in your finding each other?
TP: No, actually. I think when we first met, it was really about strategic opportunities and not about each other on a personal level. We both obviously represented very large partnerships, and we took those roles very seriously.
LM: I think the transaction was much bigger than that. It was two successful firms that came together as a result of the strategic alignment that we had identified. Had that not been there, [our gender] would have been irrelevant. That said, we all know that the personal chemistry and trust that you build in these situations are critical. I think that was more the issue rather than our shared gender.
What’s been the market reaction to the merger?
LM: I think people are proud of the fact [it was two women who led the negotiations]. I know it has stimulated conversations with clients. So, it’s definitely been remarked upon and received positively.
Has the merger caused new potential clients to give you a closer look?
TP: I think some clients who are very focused on diversity are certainly [intrigued]. I met with one last week that commented on that fact. So, I think it’s helpful, but at the end of the day, you still have to deliver very high-quality service.
How did you find each other?
TP: I read about BLP, and I read in particular about the fact that they had discussions with a U.S. firm, which led me to think they might be interested in such a merger, and weren’t averse to an overseas combination. And then I did some research and learned more about them and I thought that the synergy between the two firms was quite substantial and that the financial performance and practice focuses were similar.
So frankly, I reached out and I said let’s get together. We had our first meeting, and I’m not sure Lisa totally appreciated what the agenda was for that meeting. But we had a great first meeting. Again, the chemistry was there. Lisa suggested a second meeting, and it was really one meeting at a time for a very long time as we both continued, on a regular basis, to assess whether it made sense. And then we began to bring in teams of additional people. The entire process took 14 months, so that gives you a sense that we were quite deliberate about it and got a lot of people involved over time.
I don’t remember seeing any leaks about the merger.
LM: We were very careful and as Terry said deliberate in terms of the pace we moved at, the number of people we involved, when we involved them, checking in with one another that we each wanted to continue. Our partnership demonstrated confidence in us because, as you say, it didn’t leak. We were pleased to have a dialogue in a private way.
Can you describe the management style of each other?
TP: My perception of Lisa is that she is extremely collaborative and that’s really a theme we’re trying to institutionalize. She is thoughtful, she listens, and she is very focused on trying to reach a resolution that’s in the best interest of everyone. So, I think one of the nice things is that we quickly have gotten to the point where we’re viewing this entire new firm as our firm and really looking for resolutions that are in the best interest of the firm.
LM: I think that’s right. And on the other side, I think it was quickly apparent we were both on the same page in terms of styles. We were both good listeners, but always with the shared goal of trying to make this as successful as it could be for everybody. So I would say Terry had a firm-first mentality and she’s got good ear, and is action-oriented, which is something that appeals, certainly to me.
What’s it been like co-managing a trans-Atlantic firm?
LM: From day one, our language is that we are one firm. We’re not a collection of Vereins. We believe that makes the most sense for the service that we can offer clients. One of Terry’s great phrases is “parallel play.” So, we haven’t divided up responsibilities, certainly not on a geographic basis, for example. We’ve chosen to co-lead the whole firm together. We think given the scale of tasks, two heads are better than one.
TP: I agree with all of that. It has only been two weeks. We are still figuring things out, but I would say that we built enough confidence in each other over the past 14 months that we haven’t divided things up. I think we make decisions independent of each other, and we’re both comfortable with the other one doing that. And instinctively, we both know when there is something that is important enough to bring the other co-chair into. And more than that, I think we both value each other’s opinions enough that we reach out to toss ideas around in various productive ways.
Has the promotion and retention of women taken on new importance?
LM: Prior to coming together, both firms prioritized diversity and inclusivity. And so that was one of the things that attracted the firms to each other. So, we know this is the right thing to do, and it’s also the best outcome, in terms of resembling and servicing our clients. So, it remains a goal, and it’s a goal where we know we need to continue to make improvement. But it’s definitely an early priority for us, which is just a continuation of the direction of travel that the previous firms were on.
TP: The only thing I would add is that we certainly hope that the buzz about the combination and the fact that it’s two women [leaders] encourages some women to reach out and be more interested in our firm.