Jones Day's Pittsburgh Chief Discusses City's Global Role As G-20 Gather

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 01:00

Editor: Please tell our readers about your background and practice areas and how you came to head Jones Day's Pittsburgh office.

Ellsworth: Originally from New York City, I came to Pittsburgh to go to law school in the early '80s and remained in Pittsburgh to practice because I fell in love with the city and its character. I became a trial lawyer and came to Jones Day in the early '90s because I wanted to remain in Pittsburgh but also wanted a truly national and international practice. Jones Day was the only firm in Pittsburgh that had that breadth of practice and institutional footprint. To me, it presented the perfect combination: a world class practice in an energetic and tenacious city, with an incomparable quality of life, whose citizens - both individual and corporate - were invested in the continual growth and evolution of the place.

And how did I become the head of the office? One thing you need to understand about Jones Day is that "management" is not about power over others. It's an additional responsibility that I have to my colleagues to make sure that this office operates in a way that allows them to be the very best lawyers they can be and to provide the very best service possible to our clients. We don't have "professional managers"; management responsibilities are simply added on to the substantive work you already are doing, so we are reminded every day that client service is why we do what we do. One of the things I enjoy the most about my management role is that it enables me to bring other parts of myself to the party. As a trial lawyer, I do a lot of adversarial head banging, and I have to say that I enjoy that most of the time. But there's a lot more to me as a person than that (thankfully!), and my management role has enabled me to enhance teamwork, plan creative ways to train and develop lawyers, get involved in important community and civic activities, and work collaboratively as opposed to adversarially. And I get to spend a lot of time with my counterparts around the world, which is a blast. They are brilliant, amazing people, and they have some fascinating perspectives on a lot of issues that go far beyond the practice of law!

Editor: Please describe the practice groups in the Pittsburgh office. What kinds of work are you doing for various clients? What areas of practice are you engaged in?

Ellsworth: The Pittsburgh office has a broad range of practice areas including trial practice, products liability, labor and employment, IP, corporate, environmental, insurance and aviation. Many people are surprised that the clients with whom we work here are not necessarily based in Pittsburgh, nor are our cases necessarily based here. For example, a number of our Pittsburgh lawyers were integrally involved in the recent Chrysler bankruptcy, an unprecedented legal achievement. We also represented Mattel in the issues they faced involving toys manufactured in China. We represented PepsiCo in a coverage claim against its insurers arising from a fire at a facility in Brazil and other national companies who experienced losses as a result of Katrina. We've handled arbitrations in London for Motorola and we handle the national lead paint cases for Sherwin-Williams, including one that has been termed by one well-known commentator as "the most significant tort case of the past decade." We handle product cases nationally for Yamaha. We represent transactional clients with deals in places like China, the EU, India, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico. We see very few transactions these days that don't have some international component. In the area of employment litigation and counseling, we handle some of the largest wage and hour class actions in the nation and are counseling many local and national clients who are doing business overseas. In the environmental sphere, we counsel multinationals on environmental law issues throughout the U.S., an area of law that can feel like an entirely different universe for clients from outside the U.S. Why are these kinds of cases handled out of this office? Because we have worldclass lawyers who have come to know what I came to know: this is a terrific place from which to base a national and global practice.

Editor: Before we get to the G-20, I understand Jones Day has offices in the majority of these countries. How does your "One Firm Worldwide" philosophy work in actual practice? How does the firm facilitate lawyers from around the world to work as a team?

Ellsworth: A big part of our culture comes from the fact that our personal compensation is not based on origination credit or premised on whether a lawyer brought a particular client in the door. Rather, it is based on a lawyer's overall contribution to the firm, whether that be in introducing new clients to the firm, or introducing clients to lawyers in other practices, or devoting time to associate development, or participating in strategic planning, or making a particularly extraordinary effort on a particular matter or any number of other things. People are rewarded, quite simply, for making the firm as a whole better and stronger and for ensuring that every client is working with the lawyer - wherever in the world - who is best positioned to provide the best service to that client. In some firms, I've seen "origination credit" compensation systems create fiefdoms and silos, where people hoard work so as to protect their individual franchise. Here, selfishness and parochialism are not rewarded; to the contrary, the incentives are designed to drive all the work to the most qualified lawyer. Also, we have a blind compensation system so no partner know what another makes. That eliminates any jealousy and rivalry and distraction. We thus can focus on what we are here to do: the work of our clients.

Technology is also part of the story. Because of our sophisticated technology platform, we work absolutely seamlessly among the various offices. Just the other day I was working real time on the same document as my partner in China, just as though I was working with a lawyer in the next office. We actually stopped and laughed about how amazing it was for us to have that instantaneous communication across so many thousands of miles as easily as breathing. As another example, if I'm in the Paris office and you dial my Pittsburgh number, it will ring in my Paris office, so to the client on the outside, there is no perceptible difference in their ability to reach me, whether I am across the street or across the ocean. We want our clients to feel that, regardless what office they're dealing with, their lawyer is just down the street.

Editor: Since Pittsburgh has been chosen as the site for this month's G-20 conference could you review for our readers the purpose of the G-20, the participants at the conference, what the theme of the meeting will be and why you think President Obama picked Pittsburgh as the site of the G-20 meeting?

Ellsworth: The G-20 is made up of the economic ministers and leaders of 19 of the larger developed nations and emerging market countries as well as a representative of the EU who assemble to talk about economic policy. This year they obviously have some particularly serious and profound issues to discuss. As you might imagine, many of the specifics of the meeting are kept confidential until the last minute and other aspects are continually evolving.

I think the theme of the meeting and the choice of Pittsburgh are related. For example, I certainly would expect that a major focus of the meeting will be the steps necessary to address the dramatic global economic downturn and to develop a path to a thriving economy of the future. In many respects, Pittsburgh is a showcase for that very future and a symbol that challenges can be overcome because Pittsburgh has done just that. I think that President Obama saw Pittsburgh as an illustration of a community that is profoundly different today from its past and is on a trajectory to be even better in the future. I think he saw that the Pittsburgh of today is a tremendous engine of innovation, research and entrepreneurship, with a broad-based economy that has been noticeably resistant to many of the more dramatic economic downturns. Pittsburgh has always had a strong manufacturing base, from steel to mining equipment to nuclear powerplants. Just think of the iconic companies that are here: U.S. Steel, Heinz, PPG, CONSOL, Westinghouse to name only a few. I think reinforcement of the concept that we are actually making things in this country is one theme that will be emphasized. We also have tremendous strengths in healthcare and alternative energy, two other key areas for the global economy. For example, one of the most visionary healthcare organizations in the world, UPMC now the largest employer in this region and is practicing some of the most advanced medicine and developing sophisticated healthcare facilities throughout the world. In the energy sector, Pittsburgh has unparalleled breadth of companies from coal to oil and gas, to nuclear, to wind, to solar. And thanks to the efforts of these progressive companies and our vibrant university communities, we are at the forefront of alternative energy, green construction, computer sciences, robotics and other technologies that will truly change our lives. And all of this happened in a city that, a generation ago, was known as the "smoky city" where you had to change your white shirt at lunch. Now, it is home to green buildings, beautiful rivers, clear skies and a thriving outdoor and sports-focused culture. There are many cities around the globe who find themselves today in the place where Pittsburgh was a generation ago. Pittsburgh is thus a vision of what they can become and a toolkit of ideas for how to get there. The G-20 delegates are also going to attend an innercity school for the arts, so I suspect one theme will be the importance of a vibrant arts community. The Pittsburgh Symphony has been going to China and to Europe and is one of the great ambassadors of this city. We also have ballet, opera and an active theatre community, including world-premier producers such as the Pittsburgh Public Theater. We also have world class museums, such as the Carnegie Museum with one of the greatest dinosaur collections in the entire world and the Warhol Museum, which perhaps is out of this world. So I think you can see why The Economist recently listed Pittsburgh as the best city in the U.S. and one of the best in the world. Why not have the G-20 here? Many of us have known about this city for a long time. It's nice to see the rest of the world catching up!

Editor: Your former mayor Tom Murphy described in an interview with this newspaper in 2005 the transformation of Pittsburgh from a "smoky steel city" to a thriving and vibrant destination city. Since that time the entire nation has faced a difficult economic crisis. How has Pittsburgh fared in this downturn?

Ellsworth: All the statistics available on Pittsburgh show it to be on a more stable footing than many other places, largely I think because of the fundamental strength of the economic engine that exists here. I also think its stability has to do with the character of the city itself. Unlike some places where people sought to live beyond their means in the pursuit of material possessions (I'm from New York, remember), people here are not extremely materialistic - they care more about their family and their community than about material possessions or prestige. They make things. They invent things. They dream it and then they actually do it. One of the things that drew me to Pittsburgh is that the people here will roll up their sleeves and get involved in their community, which they deeply care about. The business community has the very same commitment to the city and its people and its causes. People are fiercely independent and take pride in taking care of themselves and their families. But they also care about one another and don't hesitate to reach a very real hand to one another. All those things I think help a community through a trying time.

Editor: Some economists are talking about a "new normalcy" once recovery takes place, meaning that the level of corporate activity will be reduced from what we knew in 2006 and 2007. How do you estimate Pittsburgh will fare in this new era?

Ellsworth: We have never settled for "normal." One of the reasons that we're positioned where we are is because we are always looking for the next challenge and what the future may bring. There's a great Gandhi quote: "We must be the change we wish to see." That's what I think Pittsburgh is. I think it will continue to follow that trajectory forward and become even greater than it is today. The one thing I hope it gets from the G-20 is more international recognition as truly one of the great cities of the world.

Please email the interviewee at leellsworth@jonesday.com with questions about this interview.