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Newsmaker: Levin aims to stay in ‘the sweet spot’

Saul Ewing LLP’s incoming managing partner Barry F. Levin has a rule: If there’s a problem, wait 24 hours.

Barry F. Levin

Barry F. Levin

And it’s just one of the management principles he will be applying to his new leadership role, which will start in January.

“I think it’s really important to apply the 24-hour rule in what might be seen as serious or crisis-type situations,” Levin said. “I find the next day it always seems to make more sense.”

Levin is the first attorney outside Saul Ewing’s Philadelphia base to be named managing partner. The firm has 11 offices across Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

In an interview with The Daily Record, Levin talked about new practice areas at the firm, maintaining its business-law base, the billable hour and plans to grow — but not too much.

“The legal industry is changing rapidly, so we need to stay current,” Levin said. “We actually think as a midsize firm we are well-positioned as the legal industry evolves.”

The beginning

Levin will take over as managing partner on Jan. 21, succeeding David S. Antzis, who has held the position for eight years — the maximum possible, as the firm allows its managing partners to serve up to two four-year terms. A 1984 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, Levin has been transitioning into his new role, meeting with Antzis and traveling to all the firm’s offices, meaning a lot of Amtrak rides, flights and work on his tablet and smartphone en route, he said.

“[Antzis] is a cerebral guy; I’m a relationship guy,” Levin said. “Spending time with everyone — I don’t know if anyone has actually done it that way. I was very fortunate in that I did have a long transition which gave me the opportunity to actually do that.”

Letting other attorneys take over the day-to-day work for his clients has been challenging for him, he said.

“I have transferred the in-the-trenches work,” Levin said. “I have still provided a lot of the counseling to my clients because I have longtime personal relationships to those folks.”

Managing partners at the firm serve as chief executive officers and are chosen by an executive committee. Levin had served on the executive committee for six years, but left the group a year before he was named managing partner.

The executive committee comes up with a short list of attorneys that members think would make good managing partners, then they consult partners in the other offices. They ask what people are looking for in a managing partner and if they have anyone to recommend for the position.

The committee then discusses its choices, conducts interviews and makes a decision with all members coming to a consensus, Levin said.

The firm, Levin said, did not set out to choose a partner from an office outside its base or particularly a Baltimore lawyer. It chose him based on his individual qualities, he said.

As for being his boss’ boss, Levin said his relationship to Charles O. Monk II, the managing partner of the Baltimore office, would not change.

“I consider Charlie to be not only a friend, but a mentor,” Levin said. “I will continue to look to Charlie as an adviser, a mentor and a friend.”

Levin will also continue to live in Baltimore.

“In terms of being from Baltimore, I think the folks from our office are actually very excited and proud someone from our office was elected to this position,” Levin said. “I think it is a message to everybody within the firm regardless of what office they are in that anybody can achieve the managing partner position.”

Levin, who joined the firm in 2003, is known for his work in complex commercial transactions, like mergers and acquisitions and liquidations, and his focus on the business structures of medical and dental practices. He has also been the chair of the business and finance practice.

He came to Saul Ewing from Siskind, Grady, Rosen, Hoover & Levin P.A., where he spent 13 years and served as in-house counsel for the Siena Corp.

‘If you don’t grow, you die’

Levin said he wants to concentrate on the firm’s expansion within and without.

In the last 18 months, the firm added a total of 25 attorneys — associates, partners and special counsel, he said.

Saul Ewing has 252 lawyers, about 50 of which work in the Baltimore office, which opened in 1998 after a merger with what was then Weinberg and Green.

The firm wants to grow its numbers at current offices, including Baltimore, as well as expand its footprint around the perimeters of its existing area. Though there are no specific locations in mind, Levin said moving west is the likeliest option.

“I want to continue to move forward with growth in the way we have done it, what I like to call smart growth, which will be, by and large, more industry-focused or geographically focused,” Levin said.

The strategy, Levin said, is more of a controlled growth, maintaining its position as a midsize firm.

“There are some firms that have gone national and international,” Levin said. “We like to use the term, ‘intergalactic.’ We think we are in the sweet spot between really large firms, the intergalactic firms, and the boutiques.”

Levin said he would also like the firm to expand its life sciences practice, an area he said is booming right now. In the last year, the firm has brought in a dozen life sciences attorneys, Levin said.

Levin also said the firm’s practice groups need to function more like businesses.

“I think that is something that’s already started in larger firms,” Levin said. “We are well along the path there. It’s something we are very focused on.”

Wants and needs

Levin said the biggest challenge facing the firm is the biggest challenge facing the legal industry — rates.

“That challenge is that since the Great Recession, there’s been real pressure on how much businesses can spend on their lawyers,” Levin said. “There’s real rate pressure.”

Levin said while the billable hour is not dead, the firm is open to other fee arrangements.

“I have this expression: ‘There is a difference between need and want,’” Levin said. “You have to figure out how to get everyone what they need, then start working on what they want.”

Right now, the firm uses alternative fee arrangements mostly for public finance projects, estates and trusts planning and certain litigation that is done repetitively.

Levin said many of the firm’s clients actually struggle with the concept of alternative fee arrangements. Once attorneys discuss how an alternative fee arrangement would work, a “healthy amount” of clients choose a billable hour model anyway, he said.

The firm’s lawyers and clients try to work together to figure out the best payment methods, Levin said.

“What has to happen is you have to have a relationship and you have to have a collaboration and you have to have a level of trust,” Levin said. “Get everyone what they need and some of what they want.”

PERSONALLY . . .

Practice:

Commercial, real estate, finance and estates and trusts law.

School:

Franklin and Marshall College, 1981; University of Baltimore School of Law, 1984.

Current reading material :

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey.

First job:

Cutting lawns when he was 14 years old.

Last major trip:

A 12-day trip across China with his two sons.

Favorite vacation spot:

Arizona, where he and his wife own a house.