Woolery to Take Leadership of Cadwalader in 2015

, The Am Law Daily

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James Woolery
James Woolery

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has named corporate cochair James Woolery to become head of the firm.

Woolery, a 44-year-old Kentucky native and former business development chair at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, left his role as cohead of North American M&A at JPMorgan Chase last year to become Cadwalader’s first deputy chair. He’ll officially succeed W. Christopher White as chairman on Jan. 1, 2015.

An M&A veteran—Woolery led teams of Cadwalader corporate lawyers last year advising Irish drugmaker Elan in a takeover battle that ended with its $6.7 billion cash-and-stock sale to U.S. generic pharmaceutical maker Perrigo and Air Products and Chemicals as hedge fund magnate William Ackman took a 9.8 percent stake worth $2.2 billion in the industrial gas company—Cadwalader’s new leader is keen on building a top-flight transactional practice.

“The market is up, and there’s an appetite for transactions,” says Woolery, noting that he wants Cadwalader to be among the “elite” firms that clients seek out for corporate work. “I think 2014 is going to be a real growth year.”

Woolery, the son of retired Ashland, Ky.–based attorney Robert Woolery II and distant cousin of former “Love Connection” host Chuck Woolery, will continue to advise M&A clients after assuming leadership of Cadwalader. White, 63, will cede the managing partner role he also currently holds to Cadwalader corporate partner Patrick Quinn.

While Quinn will take an “inward-facing” administrative and operational role, Woolery will effectively be the face of the firm as he strives to implement a “market-oriented model” at Cadwalader. The firm is known for its “eat-what-you-kill” compensation system that differs from the lockstep model at Cravath, which Woolery left for JPMorgan three years ago this month.

Woolery says there was no set “preplanned timetable” for his becoming Cadwalader's next chairman. That destiny was sealed Thursday, when the firm's management committee approved a new leadership structure put forth by White that calls for Woolery and Quinn—Cadwalader's capital markets cochair, where he leads the commercial mortgage–backed securities practice—to take control of the firm in a year.

White tells The Am Law Daily that Woolery’s ascension to the top leadership role at Cadwalader was part of a natural progression that had been in the works since Woolery joined the firm in February 2013. The leadership change marks a departure from the rough transition that saw White become Cadwalader’s chairman and managing partner in 2008 following the ouster of predecessor Robert Link Jr., according to our previous reports. (Link is now retired.)

At the time, Cadwalader was roiling from the collapse of the mortgage securitization market, forcing the firm to let go of more than 130 associates in order to stabilize its balance sheet amid the onset of the global economic downturn. That controversial decision—the subject of a September 2008 feature story in The American Lawyer—was copied over the next two years by dozens of Am Law 200 firms.

More than five years later, Cadwalader has righted the ship. The 435-lawyer firm saw gross revenue rise for the first time in three years from $448.5 million in 2011 to $466.5 million in 2012, while profits per partner jumped 11.6 percent to $2.65 million, according to The American Lawyer’s most recent Am Law 100 data. Cadwalader also matched the associate bonus scale for Wall Street firms set last month by Woolery’s former firm Cravath, and promoted five attorneys to partner on Jan. 1.

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