Editor: Congratulations on being elected chair of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP. Please tell us about your background and experience.
McCurdy: I came to Kelley Drye as an associate in 1987. I became a partner in 1996, and the chair of the Broker-Dealer practice group in 2000. I was elected to the Executive Committee in 2006; prior to that I served on our partner compensation committee and chaired our Attorneys Committee.
For over two decades, I’ve represented financial services industry clients out of our New York, D.C., Chicago and Stamford offices. Kelley Drye was among the first of the national firms to establish a presence in Connecticut, and we have been here since 1979. I work out of the Stamford office and have since 1987. My client representations range from internal investigations, enforcement cases, regulatory examinations, arbitrations, proceedings and contested matters, and state registration issues. I also handle executive employment agreements for several securities industry professionals. The best part for me is that my work is different every day.
Editor: In Kelley Drye’s 175-year history, there has been only one other firm chair, your predecessor, John M. Callagy. Why was this role created in 1992, and how has it affected the firm’s development?
McCurdy: The role was created to ensure the firm stayed focused on our external and internal goals. With a specific individual charged with overseeing the firm’s strategy in building on our strengths and maximizing our potential, the firm would sharply focus on direction.
John Callagy did a great job maintaining and building Kelley Drye’s core character and strengths: commitment to working hard and delivering excellent results for our clients, taking an active role in our community, and ensuring our work environment provides a supportive atmosphere of professionalism and camaraderie. John led the firm’s “smart growth” and our policy to adjust as the needs of our clients and practice groups support such expansion. We do not subscribe to the wholesale “growth for growth’s sake” model; it just isn’t who we are or what best serves our clients. John and our Executive Committee kept the firm stable and strong throughout changing industry trends and economic cycles. John’s example of community service and engagement inspired others; now more than 40 partners serve as officers or board members of non-profit and service organizations.
Editor: Please talk about the firm’s enduring values and how these are communicated to and instilled in your attorneys and staff.
McCurdy: Our core mission is to provide excellent legal services, fulfilling our role as a responsible professional organization and citizen in each community where we live and work, while providing a collegial professional home with opportunities to maximize career potential. We strive to achieve those goals, reinforcing values of inclusion, openness, transparency, diversity, pro bono commitments and community service.
Editor: How do these values tie in with your clients and your firm’s role in the legal profession and the community?
McCurdy: Serving our clients well is the firm’s top priority. We hire, train and retain lawyers who are intellectually curious and enthusiastic about legal practice, and we encourage them to develop into thoughtful and proactive counselors and advocates through formal training, mentoring and by example. We are proud to say that, in these times of lateral movement, one half of our partners have been with the firm for more than 20 years. This stability provides continuity in client services and a strong base from which to grow.
As part of our commitment to advance the public good, Kelley Drye has a long history of providing quality pro bono legal services in each of the communities where our lawyers practice. Our volunteer work also strengthens the firm’s association with the communities in which we live and practice.
Editor: Please talk about your broad vision for the firm, both domestically and internationally.
McCurdy: This is a particularly exciting and interesting time to have this leadership responsibility at our firm. Our Executive Committee and our partners are energized and excited about the opportunities for us to build on our core strengths and better serve our clients in a challenging environment and make the firm more successful. The legal landscape has changed tremendously during the last few decades. More women, people of different backgrounds, ages and experiences have joined us at the firm; each contributes valuable perspectives and insight, offering more valuable legal services to our clients.
2011 was an exciting year for the firm in many respects. For example, we saw more lateral partner interest than in the past, which affirms what we offer to experienced practitioners who want to be part of a firm with our strengths. We added two lateral partners in Connecticut, two in New York, one in Chicago and seven in Los Angeles via our merger with White O’Connor. We think this sends a message to the legal marketplace that we are an attractive firm to consider, and it certainly doesn’t hurt for our clients to hear that high-quality lateral candidates consider Kelley Drye an attractive firm to join.
Editor: What are some strategic business goals for the firm, and what changes will you make going forward?
McCurdy: We will build on the success we had in 2011 attracting excellent partners to join the firm. This has benefited our existing clients, many with offices on both coasts of the United States. It has bolstered our well known litigation and IP practices and introduced new capabilities in the exciting and expanding areas of entertainment and media law. We hope to continue to grow several of our key practices both internally through promoting associates and with additional lateral recruiting of accomplished attorneys.
Editor: What are the key challenges/obligations for law firms in today’s business environment? How are Kelley Drye’s global capabilities situated to meet these challenges?
McCurdy: Many of our clients are dealing with the challenges presented by the economy in general or struggles unique to their market segment. We pay attention to these realities and try to be innovative and creative in helping clients solve their legal problems. Keeping up with rapidly changing technology is a major challenge in the 21st century. We adapt our legal practices to accommodate the way the world’s economies quickly move, often well before the public fully understands the consequences. This changing world affects all businesses, with the law often lagging behind these changes.
Staying engaged and current on the global interconnected nature of our clients’ businesses and at the forefront of what’s going on in the industries we serve is a critical advantage for providing the best legal representation possible.
Editor: Would the firm consider adding to its roster of capabilities in a situation where a large corporate client presented substantial need – perhaps in a substantive area of the law or regarding business operations in a specific country?
McCurdy: We are always seeking growth opportunities that make sense for our clients and the firm; we are also very selective and carefully evaluate strategic and tactical considerations. For example, we had an opportunity several years ago to explore a sophisticated IP practice group that would have complemented ours nicely. That practice was located in a city that was not on our radar at all, but we seriously considered that investment because the practice fit was excellent.
Editor: Please talk about the firm’s commitment to community service and pro bono.
McCurdy: Our partners serve on boards of numerous arts organizations, not-for-profits, religious, charitable and academic institutions.
We have just appointed a litigator to be pro bono counsel, a newly created position designed to further enhance the firm’s pro bono program. He will oversee the continued development, administration, and supervision of our pro bono program, working closely with the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. This is a logical progression for us, as the partner previously in charge of pro bono did a tremendous job leading our firm in this area, guiding associates in representing clients in need of legal protection involving immigration and asylum, criminal defense and family law.
Editor: What is your view on firm policies to attract the best and brightest law school graduates? Is the legal education system delivering top-quality lawyers, and what programs does the firm have in place to develop its associates?
McCurdy: We believe exposing newly minted lawyers to real-life work with exciting clients in interesting business areas is a draw. In addition, our core value of inclusiveness is attracting today’s top young lawyers.
American Lawyer Media recently ranked Kelley Drye in the top 40 New York law firms for diversity. We continue to take strides in embracing diversity and training and mentoring our legal team. We value diversity not only because we strongly stand behind policies of equal opportunity but also because it has proven to be a smart, forward looking business strategy, enhancing our growth and legal capabilities.
In all of our offices, we actively recruit diverse attorneys to assemble a well-rounded pool of attorneys who can best represent our clients.
We also look for attorneys who have similar values and who want to be a part of the firm’s practices, culture, personality and long-term goals. Our interest in and commitment to our new attorneys does not stop at the recruiting level, we have established long-term programs of mentoring, and professional development, and support internal groups including Women at KDW and affinity groups to provide networking, training and support systems.
Editor: Will you continue with your work in the Broker-Dealer practice group?
McCurdy: Absolutely. It has been gratifying to get enthusiastic support from our clients about my new role. Some have joked with me that they hope my hourly rate will not go up because of it – it won’t! I’m glad to say that the phone still rings, the emails are coming in, and I’ve got plenty of client work to do. In fact, I just completed an arbitration hearing last week.
In addition, our firm’s strategy is to have our chair be an active and practicing attorney in direct engagement with the profession and our clients’ needs and to stay in touch – firsthand – with the changing legal marketplace. I’m the first lawyer in my family; I’m 51 years old; I love working with clients and have no plans to hang it up now. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of my professional life. I have represented some clients for more than two decades. What I have gained in my role with the firm’s management is proving to be invaluable experience in helping me understand many of the decisions my clients face in managing their businesses. I have learned a great deal from our clients over the years and look forward to continuing doing so.