Knowing sleepless nights are ahead, Daljit Doogal, new chairman and chief executive officer of Am Law 100 firm Foley & Lardner, has over the last four months traveled to several of the firm’s 25 offices, worked closely with his predecessor and other C-suite executives, and focused on strategic goals.
“You’ve got to build the law firm for the long term,” said Doogal, a partner in Detroit who has held a number of leadership positions at the firm prior to his election in January as chair and CEO.
Doogal moved into the firm’s top role May 1, as former chairman and CEO Jay Rothman prepares to leave the firm at the end of the month to become president of the University of Wisconsin System on June 1. During the transition, Doogal said, he spent time with Rothman, managing partner Stanley Jaspan and chief administrative partner Claude Treece, “downloading with them,” learning some historical information, and honing the firm’s strategy, which he had earlier helped develop.
Coming off more than two years of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Doogal said he’s been on the road, visiting a number of offices to meet with attorneys and staff and get to know the culture. He hopes to get to all of the firm’s offices before a firm retreat in September.
“We’ve missed over the last couple of years, with COVID, just having the personal interaction,” he said.
When traveling to the firm’s offices, Doogal said he spends a couple of days in each location. “I clear my calendar. I don’t take any phone calls unless an emergency comes up. I keep it clear to walk the halls,” he said.
It is time for an in-person retreat, he said, since lawyers hired during the pandemic haven’t met many others at the firm. Also, he said, the management change and the start of the firm’s five-year strategic plan are other reasons to meet up.
“It felt like the right time to get together and collaborate,” he said.
Doogal’s goals for this year include focusing on the strategic plan, which calls for excellent client service, talent acquisition, a focus on innovation, and continued emphasis on key industry sectors.
To provide the client service, he said, the goal is for lawyers to work more in partnership with clients, to not simply be lawyers but also business advisers.
In the talent area, because of the competitive hiring market, the focus is on planning careers for lawyers and staff as the best retention strategy. Jen Cafferty Patton, newly promoted to chief talent officer, will supervise the firm’s talent function, he said.
As for innovation, the goal is to find ways to be more efficient by thinking ahead for clients and the firm.
The firm continues to focus on four industry sectors—health care and life sciences, energy, manufacturing and innovative technology.
Doogal takes on his new role as the firm comes off a strong 2021, when it exceeded $1 billion in revenue for the first time, and revenue per lawyer improved by 9.1% and profits per equity partner by 14.9%, compared with 2020.
Foley & Lardner, founded in Milwaukee, grew significantly in 2018, when it merged with Dallas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell.
Although he’s prepared for the leadership role, Doogal said the geopolitical situation creates uncertainties.
“The sleepless nights are coming,” he said.
Knowing that the legal industry has had “exponential growth” over the last several years, the signs of a potential slowdown in the economy are worrisome, he said, despite the firm’s strategy that focuses on areas changing in the economy.
In 2021, the firm opened an office in the emerging market of Salt Lake City and added nine M&A and corporate lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including former DLA Piper rainmaker Louis Lehot, and this year expanded in Orlando.
But as for expansion this year, Doogal said it would have to be something that ties into the firm’s strategic plan, and “nothing is on the horizon now.”
Prior to becoming chairman and CEO, Doogal had already been a member of the firm’s management committee, and previously was managing partner of the Detroit office and chair of the business law department.
“I’m lucky to be in this position. Jay has prepared me for this role,” Doogal said.