'We are always alive to opportunities' - Reed Smith's first woman leader takes helm after predecessor's abrupt career change

Casey Ryan has taken over from Sandy Thomas mid-way through his term following his decision to join a not-for-profit

Reed Smith’s new managing partner, Casey Ryan, has promised to continue investing in talent at all levels of the firm, including through lateral hires, following the unexpected departure of her predecessor, Sandy Thomas.

Ryan became the top 30 US firm’s first woman leader today (1 March) when she took over from Thomas, who has left the firm mid-way through his third term to join the not-for-profit Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

Ryan said the first she knew Thomas was stepping down after 10 years as managing partner was in January, when he informed the management team of his plans. But she added that the succession and transition had “gone smoothly”.

Ryan is the longest-serving member of the seven-strong management committee and her role for the past eight years as global head of legal personnel, with responsibility for recruitment, learning, compensation and promotions, made her a natural successor to Ryan.

“Our board took on the responsibility of selecting a successor,” she said. “We have a lot of talented leaders and I was delighted to have been chosen. I am on day one and I am excited and motivated to lead the firm.”

Thomas had been elected unopposed to serve a third four-year term in June 2021, and the firm will not hold fresh leadership elections until 2025. Although Ryan wouldn’t commit to standing, it seems likely that her leadership will extend beyond this interim period. 

“The firm is very strong and I am going to build on that strength, we are deeply committed to the single firm model and our five sector groups,” she said. “We are going to continue on that strategy.”

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Ryan has held numerous leadership positions within the firm having joined it straight out of law school in 1996. Before taking on her role as head of personnel, she was global practice head of the labour and employment group and vice chair of the litigation department. 

During her time as part of the management team, the firm opened six new offices: two in Europe, in Brussels and Frankfurt, and four in the US, in Austin, Dallas, Miami and Orange County, California. 

Although Ryan wouldn’t commit to new office openings in the short term, she said the firm would be making lateral hires while she would continue to pursue her “deep interest” in investing in talent, including through the firm’s Associate Advantage, a three-year professional training programme for junior associates.

“There is nothing to announce at the moment, but we are always alive to opportunities and we pay close attention to the market,” she said, adding that she had noticed an “uptick in combinations among law firms that reflects firms wanting to improve scale and offerings”.

The firm recorded a record set of finance results for 2021, with global revenue increasing 9.6% to hit $1.44bn and profit per equity partner (PEP) rising by 13.4% to reach $1.74m. Ryan said the firm had also had a “very strong 2022”. As for 2023, she said the firm had no plans to lay off staff. “Many are predicting headwinds, but so far we are off to a solid start,” she said. 

Ryan also paid tribute to her predecessor, who left the firm today to become the first chief legal officer of KIND, which is devoted to the protection of unaccompanied and separated child migrants.

Under Thomas’s leadership, Reed Smith grew its revenue from $1.152bn in 2014 to $1.436 bn in 2021; while profit per equity partner grew from $1.203m to $1.735m.

Ryan said: “Sandy has provided the firm with exceptional leadership through an unprecedented time for businesses and the legal industry. He is respected for his steadfast commitment to our strategy, for consistently modeling our core values, and for his attention and regard for our entire global team.”

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