Warren Gorrell, the onetime chair of Hogan Lovells who stepped down from his role as co-CEO in 2013, has announced his official retirement.
The National Law Journal has a nice profile on the 62-year-old M&A lawyer, who represented General Electric on a number of transactions, including its $27 billion sale of real estate equity to Blackstone and Wells Fargo last year.
Other clients have included Jeff Horowitz, global head of real estate investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Andy Jonas, global co-head of real estate investment banking at Goldman Sachs.
On Thursday, Big Law Business caught up with Gorrell, who will retire on the last day of 2016, but maintain his title as CEO emeritus.
With regard to what he’ll be doing with his down time, he said, “Everybody asks me that, and I keep saying, ‘My plan is to have no plan, and it’s really true.”
For a long time, Gorrell was the face of Hogan Lovells. He started his career at what was once Hogan & Hartson, in 1979, after graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law. He rose the ranks quickly, becoming an equity partner at age 31, six years after graduation — the fastest any lawyer has advanced to equity partner at Hogan, according to the firm.
In 2001, he became the chair of Hogan & Hartson, a firm he merged with Lovells of London in 2010, expanding what was once a 700-lawyer firm with 13 offices and $350 million in revenues, to one with more than 2,400 lawyers in 43 offices and more than $1.6 billion in revenues.
Gearing up for his retirement, Gorrell shared some lessons he learned along the way. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion.
Big Law Business: Congratulations, I think?
Gorrell: Absolutely. At least from my standpoint. This is earlier than I thought, not that I gave it any thought. It seemed like the right time, just like when I decided to step down as co-CEO. I looked around and thought things seemed really good. It came as a surprise to people and, in the end, it worked out great. Our business is fantastic, we have a great team, great clients and things are going really well.
Big Law Business: You’ll keep your title as CEO emeritus, which is what you’ve been since you stepped down as co-CEO in 2013. How will things be different?
Gorrell: I will be involved in things, if and as when needed. I”m going to be available to work on things. There are some strategic things and client relationships that I am involved in that I would like to continue. Whatever Steve (Immelt) and the management team would like me to be helpful on, I will. But you know, it will be a much more limited role. I’ve worked about 3,000 hours a year for 37 years and that’s a strong commitment. I’d like to step back a bit.
Big Law Business: What are you going to do with all your down time now?
Gorrell: It’s funny, everyone asks me that and I keep saying my plan is to have no plan and it’s really true. I, of course, am an avid cyclist. I used to be a better golfer before I was a cyclist, but I’m going to basically see what I feel like doing. It feels weird, to be honest. When I tell people (that I have no plan), they assume I’m not telling them what I’m thinking. I guess everyone assumes that I have a plan.
Big Law Business: Looking back on your time in management, what lessons have you learned?
Gorrell: One of them is that you can’t do anything worthwhile without a team. Whether you’re a leader of the team or whether you’re the newest member, you can always do more and better by being part of a team. For me, that was definitely true with my practice. We have a fantastic team, where we have the largest M&A deals, and in the REIT industry, we were involved in creating the structure that actually is used today by all the public REITs.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that you need to bring your A game to every single thing you do. That is one thing I’ve emphasized to summer and new associates as I’ve met with them on their orientation every year. You don’t know what project will change your life. I can almost literally trace my career to a transaction I worked on in 1986. Growing out of that transaction, those relationships led to new clients and so, you don’t know what’s going to change your life. If you don’t bring your A game to every single thing you do, you might miss out on an opportunity.
Last, it’s important to be part of an organization that stands for something more than making money. In the jobs I had, it was important to ensure that the firm had great financial performance and the partners felt well-treated and compensated and thought everything worked fairly. One of the things I’m proudest of though, is the support I gave to pro bono and citizenship activity over the years. It’s not just that we give it to a few people and they do it for all of us.
Big Law Business: We had a story recently by my colleague Gabe Friedman, who spoke with a former K&L Gates lawyer who saved a death row inmate, but since he spent so many hours on the case, wasn’t able to make partner. What are big firms responsibility in supporting these cases?
Gorrell: You have to have the institutional support for taking on pro bono matters that are going to make a difference. Leadership on that starts at the top. If the ones at the top are supporting those types of matters, it makes it easy for the lawyers to do it. You can’t take on an unlimited amount of matters, but if you commit to do something as a firm, then you need to stand behind it. We were involved in a number of things — several years ago, we were involved in cleaning up air pollution in the Grand Canyon, and we represented a death row inmate for (25-30 years), and we had some of our best lawyers in the firm working around the clock. I wanted to make sure that they knew the firm was supportive. There was a crisis around whether he was going to be executed. They won that battle, but then in the end they lost. I’m talking about the Ferguson case.
[Hogan Lovells represented a mentally ill man convicted of killing eight people in the late 70’s in the Miami area. John Errol Ferguson was ultimately executed at Florida State Prison in August 2013.]
It’s important for large law firms to take on those significant matters that demand a huge level of resources and talent that otherwise wouldn’t get done.
Big Law Business: Tell me about that 1986 transaction and how it shaped your career.
Gorrell: We represented the Pillsbury Company and they owned Burger King at the time and we came up with a structure to monetize the rent that Burger King received from franchises and put that into a public company as part of a master limited partnership. That was the first master limited partnership in the real estate industry.
[The deal, he said, opened doors to relationships with Merrill Lynch, and other investment banks.]
So another lesson is, don’t be afraid to take a risk and do something that hasn’t been done before. A lot of lawyers think that taking a risk is not the thing to do. Actually, not being afraid to do something that hasn’t been done before is critical, whether it’s representing clients or the firm. In that 1986 transaction, there never had been a master limited partnership in the real estate industry, and we did the first… When it came to merging Hogan & Hartson and Lovells, there had never been a transaction like that, a transatlantic merger of two high-end law firms. If you’re not willing to think about new solutions, you’re not really going to be able to work at the highest level.
Big Law Business: What will you miss most?
Gorrell: One is the people. I’ve been so fortunate to work with such a great team, whether it’s my team, my practice, the leadership team, or all the people here. The people are what drew me to Hogan & Hartson in the first place. And also the clients. I will also miss, in one sense, having a really difficult problem to solve. Who knows whether I’ll figure out ways to be a problem solver (after I retire). But I really enjoy the challenge of something that is not easy and is meaningful.