A recent article in The American Lawyer, written to honour the memory of A. William “Bill” Urquhart of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, caused me to reflect on what we can learn from the examples of those who make a lasting mark on a specific firm, and on the legal profession in general.

The article relates that after joining the then-new litigation-only firm in 1988, Urquhart “quickly became the firm’s unofficial recruiter-in-chief. In [his] 31 years with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, it grew from a 15-lawyer litigation boutique to an Am Law 50 firm with more than 800 lawyers in 23 offices worldwide.”

This is an impressive record by any standards. But the achievement seems particularly notable in light of a quote from Urquhart’s long-time parter, John Quinn, who said, “Unlike a lot of litigators, he didn’t relish being overtly adversarial. He was great at resolving disputes and bringing people together.”

This seems a remarkable statement about a lawyer who helped to build a firm that specializes exclusively in litigation, and whose own clients included, among others, IBM, Hughes Aircraft, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Urquhart clearly combined his dispute-resolution skills with a number of other strengths that increased his effectiveness. According to Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the law school at Stanford, now also a partner at the firm and one of Urquhart’s recruits, these included “remarkable legal insight” and “an ability to see around legal corners to spot the next legal trend.”

For those still in career-building mode, one of the greatest sources of guidance can be the examples set by those who preceded them. The external appearance of the legal profession may change but basic and sometimes counterintuitive strengths – like being a seeker of resolutions in a litigation firm  – continue to be the keys to long-term success.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.