13 May 2022

John Quinn assumes executive chairman role in leadership shake-up at Quinn Emanuel

Litigation giant 'expands formal leadership' with appointment of two co-managing partners to help run firm

Portraits of William Burck and New York-based litigation partner Michael Carlinsky

William Burck (right) and Michael Carlinsky

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s co-founder and longstanding managing partner, John Quinn, has stepped up to a new position as chairman, allowing for the appointment of two co-managing partners to help run the firm.

The shake-up sees Washington DC-based white collar defence and government investigations partner William Burck and New York-based litigation partner Michael Carlinsky promoted to the new posts.

The change follows the creation of a 12-person service committee in 2020. And while the latest appointments bolster the firm’s leadership, Quinn, who will turn 71 this year, will maintain an executive role. There is no suggestion he has any plans to step back from front-line leadership of the firm.

Quinn said: “By expanding and invigorating the leadership of the firm, we are sending a clear message that Quinn Emanuel is built to last. Mike and Bill are extraordinary lawyers who have been instrumental in leading our New York and Washington DC offices to tremendous success. I look forward to working closely with them to take the entire firm to new heights.”

Since Quinn – and three other lawyers – founded the specialist litigation firm in 1986 it has grown into a top 30 US firm with turnover last year of $1.66bn generated by 900 lawyers based across 29 offices, including nine in Europe, five in Australasia and two in the Middle East.

Key strategic staging posts for the firm were the opening of a New York office shortly after it was founded accompanied by a decision not to represent Wall Street banks and its opening of a London office in 2008, which last year generated revenue of $175m.

Burck has been at Quinn Emanuel for just over a decade, currently serving as co-managing partner of its Washington office and co-chair of three practice groups: crisis law and strategy, regulatory litigation, and government enforcement and white collar criminal defence. Prior to joining Quinn Emanuel, he worked in the White House for President George W. Bush as deputy counsel and special counsel to the president and as deputy staff secretary. The New York Times has described him as a ‘Washington superlawyer’.

Veteran commercial litigator Carlinsky, meantime, has been at the firm for more than two decades, joining from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, where he worked just short of 10 years. He started his career as an associate at Weil Gotshal & Manges in 1989. He is currently managing partner of the firm’s New York office, global head of complex litigation and co-chair of insurance litigation.

Name partner Kathleen Sullivan said: “John has led our firm to such extraordinary global reach and scale that it makes perfect sense for him to now expand the ranks of the firm’s formal leadership. Mike and Bill are exceptional lawyers who are widely respected for their dazzling legal skills and extraordinary business acumen. They will be invaluable to John in the day-to-day running of the firm.”

The new appointments at Quinn bear some similarity to a shake-up at another top US litigation firm led by a charismatic and successful founder.

In December 2019, Boies Schiller Flexner appointed New York-based Nick Gravante and London-based Natasha Harrison as co-managing partners in support of chairman and co-founder David Boies in what was seen as an important staging post in the firm's leadership succession plan.

Boies – now 81 – remains at the helm of the firm, while both Gravante and Harrison have both left, Harrison to set up the London boutique Pallas Partners with the bulk of the Boies Schiller's London office. 

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