What's It Like to Lead a Global Law Firm? Q&A with Orientation Speaker Warren Gorrell '79
Warren Gorrell, a corporate partner and former co-CEO of Hogan Lovells, will welcome the University of Virginia School of Law's Class of 2017 during orientation on Monday.
Gorrell, a 1979 graduate of the Law School, recently spoke about his path from associate to leading one of the nation's top firms, and offered advice to today's students.
Could you describe your work?
I'm a corporate lawyer (M&A, capital markets and governance) and I work primarily with REITs (real estate investment trusts — typically large public companies that own office buildings, malls, apartments or other real estate assets). For the last 13-plus years I've also managed our firm, first as the chairman of Hogan & Hartson and then as the co-CEO of Hogan Lovells. I stepped down from that role at the end of June and now am the CEO emeritus and still a corporate partner.
How did you get interested in M&A and corporate law?
I always wanted to be involved in business. I went to law school instead of business school because I felt that rounded out my economics background and gave me the most flexibility, knowing in the end I could always pursue a business career. After being exposed to corporate work as a young lawyer, I found I really enjoyed it and so I stayed with it. I like deals, so I've tended toward M&A, but still have the flexibility to do a broad range of corporate work. And then I was fortunate to be able both to practice law and be involved in business more directly when I assumed leadership of the firm.
What was your career path? What led you to your current position?
I’m very fortunate to have been with the same firm for over 35 years. I started literally three days after graduating from UVA (I had a lot of student loans to pay off). I was exposed to corporate, tax and real estate practices as a young associate and settled on corporate, though my exposure to both other areas has helped over the course of my career. I was lucky to be advanced directly to partner after only six years and was able as a young partner to be involved in many of the larger, higher-profile transactions that we handled. On the practice side, our team conceived a new structure in the early ’90s for REITs that ended up enabling the market for publicly traded real estate companies to grow to the substantial market cap it has today, and this was very good for my career. On the management side, after a few years as a partner I was elected to our Executive Committee and over the years I served three terms. In the late ’90s, in between terms on the ExCom, I started our New York office and commuted for several years between Washington and New York. All of these roles put me in a position where the firm asked me to take over leadership of the firm at the beginning of 2001. I’ve been fortunate to do both practice and management for many years.
What is a typical day like for you?
I like to get up early and I don’t need a lot of sleep, so my typical day is to get to the gym by 6 a.m. to work out, eat breakfast and get to the office before 8. I try to block out a couple of times where nothing is scheduled so I can be sure I have time to do the things that are high on my priority list, so I usually use the first hour and one other hour in the afternoon to deal with my priorities as well as emails that have come in. I typically have a series of client meetings and calls (sometimes just internal coordination) as well as a number of firm-related meetings. But every day comes with the unexpected things you have to deal with, so I’m constantly juggling to be sure that I’m focused on the most important issues, whether client- or firm-related.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Aside from travel and trying to stick to my priorities, the most challenging part of my job is helping people deal with their perceived problems.
You recently served as co-CEO of Hogan Lovells while maintaining a substantial practice of your own, which is unusual in a major law firm. What was that like? What did you learn from doing this?
It no doubt was hard and required a strong commitment, but it definitely was both meaningful to me personally and helpful to each role to be involved in the other. By that, I mean clients like to deal with the person in charge and someone who runs a business just as they do, and it definitely is easier to lead if I’m doing the same thing that other partners are doing and successfully navigating all the issues we all face in our practices. Doing both also absolutely reinforced my view that success is all about teamwork and surrounding yourself with the best people. As the leader of our REITs practice and the firm, I’ve always received a lot of the credit that really goes to my team in the practice and to our management team. Teamwork leads to the best results.
What's one thing you wish you had known before you started law school?
Despite all the changes in the legal profession over the last 35 years, there’s nothing I wish I’d known that would have caused me not to want to become a lawyer. Insofar as law school goes, I wish I had known from the outset that it wasn’t necessary (or even helpful) to be consumed by studying in order to do well and succeed in law school. The recipe for me would be to do the reading, go to class, take good notes, get rest before exams, get involved in activities, develop enduring relationships, take advantage of all the support the Law School has to offer you and, just as important as these and perhaps more so, be active and get a lot of exercise.
You have been a strong supporter of the Law School and the UVA Law alumni network. Why do you think this is important?
Fundamentally, it’s important for each of us to find ways to give back. It’s fair to say that education literally changed my life and my family’s lives, so it’s easy to support the Law School in whatever ways I can. It also helps each of us, both while we’re here and down the road, for alumni to support the Law School so strongly — it gives the Law School the resources to attract and retain the best faculty and students, to provide an attractive and useful physical facility, and to provide the best technology and other support services. Strong alumni support, both in absolute terms and overall participation, also sends a great signal to the market (faculty, students and everyone else) that UVA is a great place and people like being here and appreciate it. Similarly, having a strong alumni network is helpful as young lawyers get started with their careers and as their careers develop — we come away from here with a feeling that we’re in this together and we’d like to help each other succeed. And both of these — strong alumni support for the Law School and a strong alumni network — help UVA have a great reputation, which in turn helps each of us.
What advice would you give to UVA Law students who might be interested in pursuing a similar career?
Do well in your course work and get meaningfully involved in collaborative activities.