Lewis Brisbois Undergoes Leadership Transition During Turbulent Period
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Lewis Brisbois, a prominent law firm, finds itself in a state of upheaval as a new leader takes the helm amidst a series of departures. Gregory Katz assumes the role of managing partner during a critical phase for the firm.

Recent data from American Lawyer reveals a 17% decline in Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith’s profits per equity partner in 2022. Furthermore, over the span of five months, the firm experienced a significant exodus, with hundreds of attorneys, staff members, including almost 140 labor and employment lawyers and practice group leaders, leaving the organization.

Katz, who was elected as the managing partner in May, succeeds co-founder and long-serving leader Bob Lewis. However, shortly after Katz’s appointment, the firm released a collection of emails that exposed racist, sexist, and antisemitic exchanges among the departing lawyers over several years.


According to sources familiar with the situation, Katz, known for his close ties to Bob Lewis, is unlikely to implement immediate major changes, leading some to view him as a facsimile of the former leader. However, Katz aims to enhance the billing department’s leadership and technology structures, building upon his prior efforts to improve administrative functions within the firm.

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A senior administrative officer, speaking anonymously, commented that Katz’s leadership style closely resembles that of Bob Lewis, stating, “It’s no different than Bob running the firm.”

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Lewis Brisbois, under Bob Lewis’ guidance, expanded from a Los Angeles-based insurance defense firm into a national operation over the course of approximately 40 years. Chubb, an insurance company, stands as the firm’s largest client, with other notable clients including Zurich Insurance Group, Home Depot Inc., and Ford Motor Co.

Katz, a general liability lawyer who joined Lewis Brisbois in 2010, developed strong relationships with top executives as he built one of the firm’s largest books of business. Notably, his clientele has included insurer AmTrust Financial Services.

In the past decade, Lewis Brisbois nearly doubled its attorney headcount, growing from 902 lawyers in 2013 to 1,700 by the end of 2022. The firm ended the year with 1,029 partners, 161 of whom held an equity stake. The profits per equity partner for the firm amounted to $1 million last year.

However, the firm has experienced significant turnover, adding almost 2,100 lawyers while shedding approximately 1,800 over the past five years. This attrition has been further compounded by recent mass departures in the cybersecurity and labor and employment practices.

Legal recruiter Michelle Fivel emphasized that the firm’s high turnover poses a challenge as clients and potential recruits inquire about the reasons behind the departures.

Former Lewis Brisbois partner Sean Hoar, who departed in January with a 44-person cybersecurity team, expressed his belief that a change in management is insufficient to address the underlying reasons for the departures. Hoar stated, “Changing the names of a managing partner or members of a management committee are not likely to foster necessary change.”

Lewis Brisbois has faced scrutiny over its handling of certain business operations, such as proprietary software and billing and collections systems. Sources suggest that under Bob Lewis’ leadership, necessary changes were delayed, and compensation decisions were perceived to favor a select inner circle while retaliating against those deemed disloyal.

John Barber and Jeff Ranen, who led the mass departure of employment lawyers from the firm, established their own venture, Barber Ranen, earlier this year. Their departure was attributed to a dissatisfaction with the firm’s status quo. However, they resigned shortly after offensive emails came to light, subsequently rebranding their remaining lawyers as Daugherty Lordan.

Lewis Brisbois initiated an investigation into Ranen and Barber following an anonymous complaint, subsequently uncovering the offensive emails. While some of the lawyers who initially left with Ranen and Barber have expressed a desire to return, the situation remains ongoing.

Lewis Brisbois acknowledges the attrition it has faced and emphasizes that changes in staffing are common within the legal industry, particularly at the professional-non-attorney level. The firm aims to address the challenges it faces under Katz’s leadership, while also dealing with the aftermath of recent controversies and striving to rebuild its reputation.

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