Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan is shaking up its leadership for the first time in its 36-year history.
Co-founder and longtime managing partner John Quinn is transitioning to the newly created role of chairman, while William “Bill” Burck and Michael “Mike” Carlinsky have been appointed co-managing partners of the firm.
The appointments symbolize the evolution of the firm and its rapid growth to over 900 lawyers, but also “formalizes a reality that has been in place for some time,” according to Quinn.
In 2020, Quinn Emanuel created a 12-person service committee, which Quinn likened to other firms’ executive committees. The firm also has standing partnership, guarantee, contingency and diversity committees.
“We’re a multi-jurisdictional, interdisciplinary firm under the umbrella of a litigation-only practice with 29 offices in 11 countries. No one person can oversee it,” Quinn said.
In 2021, Quinn Emanuel grew its gross revenue by 27.2% to $1.66 billion and increased its head count by 9.6% to 900. Quinn said the firm remains busy, noting that in the past five months it has added 20 patent litigators and “we could use more.”
Burck and Carlinsky have been involved in leadership roles for years, and were both heavily influenced by the firm’s late co-founder Bill Urquhart, according to Quinn.
Burck has practiced at Quinn Emanuel since 2012 and is the firm’s Washington, D.C., co-office leader. He also serves as co-chair of three government-facing practices, and has represented high-profile officials from the Trump administration including former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and strategist Steve Bannon.
“Our careers have developed here, and we are very much an outgrowth of the perspective of the firm,” Burck said. ”This is about continuity, rather than change. Our biggest change is a good problem, which is that we have a lot more lawyers all around the world.”
Carlinsky joined the firm in 2002, helping to launch its New York office, where he serves as the office leader. He is also the global head of complex litigation and chair of insurance litigation. He has been recognized in sister publication Am Law Litigation Daily, most recently in February in defense of AIG in a case brought by policyholder Conduent.
Quinn Emanuel’s leaders maintain the shakeup is not a departure from the firm’s history. Back in 2018, Quinn told The American Lawyer that succession planning is “an example of superfluous business school-speak that adds nothing.”
To that end, Quinn said the announcement is not a reflection of succession planning.
“We don’t talk about it in those terms. That would imply I’m mortal,” Quinn said. ”We already have great leaders in our firm. But it is natural to think if I got hit by the proverbial bus, Bill and Mike would be at the top of the list of people leading the firm.”
“You can understand now why John isn’t worried about succession planning because the firm is chock-full of talented lawyers and great leaders who could if asked step into John’s shoes,” Carlinsky said. “But John is not going anywhere, and he is more energized frankly than he has ever been.”
A ’360-Degree’ View
A growing number of large law firms have appointed multi-attorney management teams in recent years, as leaders balance firmwide challenges with their own practices.
“You always worry about what you don’t know. You can’t possibly look at this firm from every partner with a 360-degree view. It is impossible,” Quinn said. “Mike and Bill will help implement initiatives that never occurred to me.”
Burck and Carlinksy highlighted head count growth as a key priority, given the makeup of the litigation-only firm and the priority on work-life balance that has emerged in the past two years.
“We don’t sell software, we sell people’s minds and their ability to solve problems,” Burck said. “The only thing we’ve got is our own success as litigators. We have generated success, but the pandemic has also helped us think about how to improve the lives of our lawyers.”
Quinn Emanuel was the first Am Law 100 firm to take a definitive position on remote work, adopting a “work from anywhere” policy that its leaders say has allowed the firm to capture great talent outside of its typical jurisdictions.
Carlinksy said though the firm had its most productive year ever in a remote environment in 2021, it continues to prioritize bringing energy to its workforce.
“We need to make sure lawyers get feedback and interaction, and that comes from being in-person. We need to make sure that is not neglected,” he said. “We are not here just to maximize hours, but to make sure folks are developing as lawyers.”
After hiring talent in places outside of its physical footprint, Quinn Emanuel opened an Atlanta office last February, which has continued to grow, and a Miami outpost last May with 10 lawyers including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who was previously counsel at Greenspoon Marder.
Certainly, the firm hasn’t been an outlier when it comes to talent churn in the current market. In March, the firm’s antitrust investigations and government enforcement practice leader Ethan Glass departed for Cooley.
The firm also witnessed a string of practice chairs part ways for Wilson Sonsini, White & Case, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and King & Spalding last year. Also last year the firm saw a 15-attorney team in its London office decamp to Willkie.
Patent, Regulation and Deal Disputes on Fire
Quinn Emanuel’s leaders say the firm’s litigation-only focus positions it to continue its growth trajectory, regardless of shifting economic conditions.
“Last year we had our best year ever, in terms of hours, revenue and profitability. This year, we’re booming and our hours are up again,” Carlinksy said.
In addition to its revenue growth, the firm saw its profits per equity partner rise 23%, jumping from $4.7 million to $5.75 million in 2021. The firm also increased net income by 37.3%, from $724 million to $994 million.
“When we look at a year like last year, it was aberrational for full-service firms because capital markets practices were so busy,” Carlinksy said. “Our firm was also busy, but we expect that to continue. We’re not subject to inflation or cycles that capital markets practices go through.”
Quinn pointed to several “sweet spots” that boosted the firm’s revenues in 2021, including patent and government-facing litigation as well as increased activity in the financial markets that have led to disputes.
Some of the firm’s most recent work has included representing BGI Group in its battle with Illumina over DNA sequencing patents, Ukraine pro bono in inter-state proceedings against the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and U.K. Facebook users in a collective action against the social media platform’s parent, Meta.
Quinn said, “We’re a litigation specialist firm, but our areas of excellence within litigation have been particularly hot.”