Changing of the guard at Reed Smith unlikely to signal major change in direction at law firm

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Catching a few minutes with Reed Smith's new global managing partner isn't easy: As soon as he enters a meeting in Pittsburgh after flying in from Washington, D.C., Alexander "Sandy" Thomas already is expected on a conference call with the London office.

But he greets everyone in the Pittsburgh meeting warmly, by name, takes questions and stands for photos with Pittsburgh managing partner George Stewart. He has been in the top job a little more than a month, but Mr. Thomas, based in the firm's D.C. office, seems right at home.

And he brushes aside a query about whether Reed Smith, founded in Pittsburgh in 1877, will keep its home base in the Steel City, despite having offices in 24 other cities worldwide and a global managing partner based elsewhere:

"Ask me a tough question," Mr. Thomas said. "No matter how you slice the metrics, the Pittsburgh office is an enormous part of the firm's client services and its culture. We only want to expand on it."

Mr. Thomas, who holds a bachelor's degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and a law degree from Washington and Lee University, is a specialist in antitrust law and commercial litigation. One of his largest clients is Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel.

His predecessor, Gregory Jordan, left Reed Smith to take the top legal job at PNC Financial Services Group.

While the home office of the global managing partner is now different, Mr. Thomas expects to continue many of Mr. Jordan's traditions at Reed Smith.

"Greg had a fantastic 13-year run. He was highly in touch with everyone in the firm, and had a highly personal style of leadership," Mr. Thomas said. "There is nothing about that I would change. It stitches us closer together. We're invested in each others' successes."

Mr. Thomas laid out some of the priorities he has for Reed Smith, among them, continued growth. "But not just growth for growth's sake. It's all strategic, and all driven by client need," he said.

Having offices in Pittsburgh and Houston presents one of those opportunities for strategic growth, Mr. Thomas added. "That's a one-of-a-kind set of coordinates for a law firm," he said. "It's ground zero for the energy industry in Houston, and Pittsburgh is one of the most important areas on the map" for energy.

Understanding clients' needs and the business climates they're working in is what Reed Smith does well, but can always improve, Mr. Thomas said. And, having a deep appreciation for the cost-pressures clients are facing is crucial, he said, no matter what industry the client is operating in.

That was one of Mr. Jordan's guiding principles, Mr. Stewart said.

"One of the things Greg did was sit down with clients and listen to what the recession was doing to their businesses, and explore solutions with them," he said.

This led the firm to develop alternative fee arrangements and legal project-management strategies, which are now part of any pitch to a new client. "We have a very forward-thinking management team here," Mr. Stewart said.

Reed Smith is the second-largest law firm in the city behind K&L Gates by annual revenue, and it has 275 attorneys in its Fifth Avenue offices, as well as several hundred employees at a global customer center on Stanwix Street.

Based on annual gross revenues, Reed Smith was the 19th largest law firm in the U.S. last year, according to a ranking by trade publication American Lawyer. The firm's revenues totaled $1.01 billion, up 2 percent from 2011.

Mr. Stewart said it would be a change for the Pittsburgh office to not be home to the firm's global managing partner. "But Greg was on the road 220 days out of the year, so it was not unusual for him to not be here," he said.

When Mr. Thomas took the reins, "it was seamless," Mr. Stewart said. "There's been little difference for us, and not at all awkward."

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241.

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