Leander A. Dolphin is now the sole managing partner of Connecticut-based Shipman & Goodwin, effective Jan. 1, after her co-managing partner left the firm at the end of last year to start a separate insurance boutique.
Just a year ago, the 146-lawyer firm appointed Dolphin, along with partners Kent Nevins and James Ruggeri, to take over for former managing partner Alan Lieberman. At the time, Lieberman said it was “a bold move that will take this firm to a new level.”
Ruggeri parted ways with Shipman & Goodwin in December to form Ruggeri Parks Weinberg, and Dolphin said the firm will not replace Ruggeri with a new co-managing partner. Nevins will continue to help lead the firm as chair of its management committee, which added three new partners this year.
“Our partners wanted us to try to focus on all the various parts of our firm. They wanted a leadership model that was reflective of the breadth of our firm,” she said.
Dolphin, who is Black, is part of a small cohort of women of color in top leadership roles at midsize and large law firms. According to a 2020 report by the American Bar Association, only 2% of equity partners at large law firms are women of color.
“The firm has always given me opportunities to lead well before I even considered it,” Dolphin said. “A lot of firms can learn from that, that you need a place where … leaders and the partners at the firm identify people with talent with an approach that resonates with them.”
In announcing Ruggeri’s departure last week along with 12 other lawyers, leaders at Shipman & Goodwin and Ruggeri Parks told Law.com their separation was driven by potential conflicts of interest in the specialized insurance practice that would impede national growth of Shipman & Goodwin’s business, environmental, education and litigation practices. They said Shipman will continue to handle corporate, labor and employment, litigation and privacy matters of mutual clients.
“It really was amicable,” Dolphin said. “We had been talking for years about whether we were being best served by having a shared platform.”
Dolphin started practicing at Shipman & Goodwin in 2004, leaving for a two-year stint as general counsel for the Girl Scouts of Connecticut in 2007. She returned to the firm in 2009 as an associate.
Dolphin served on the firm’s management committee for three years before being named co-managing partner in January 2021.
As managing partner, Dolphin said she’s been tasked to work with the management committee to execute on the firm’s strategy to grow in key practice areas and capitalize on opportunities in the market. The management committee now includes partners Stephen Gellman, Eric Goldstein and Marie Pollio, along with returning members Andrew Davis and Karen Staib, as well as chair Nevins.
In a statement, the firm said Dolphin is “uniquely prepared” to meet the challenges posed to law firms by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a partner with Shipman’s school law practice, one of the “strongest” in Connecticut, she said, Dolphin said she has helped clients navigate COVID-related legal issues, such as remote learning and vaccine requirements, that pertain to business clients beyond the education sphere.
“There is no one better prepared than Leander to help lead Shipman into our next 100 years,” Nevins said in a statement. “She understands the importance of pivoting a law practice to meet the business needs of our clients as well as the cultural needs of our attorneys and staff.”
While it’s common for managing partners to give up their law practice to focus on running the firm, Dolphin said she “can’t imagine” discontinuing her work with the firm’s school law practice, even as she navigates the managing partner position on her own.
“I’m mid-career; it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give up my practice,” Dolphin said. “We [in leadership] really need to understand what our lawyers are experiencing, what our partners are experiencing and what our clients are asking for. It helps us be better leaders.”
Leadership changes at Shipman come at the tail end of one of the firm’s “strongest” years financially and as firm leaders seek to replicate and build on that success in 2022.
Dolphin said Shipman expanded its corporate practice and intellectual property capabilities in 2021 to handle the onslaught of dealmaking work—which Dolphin and other firms are betting on to drive demand for legal services this year.
In December, Shipman formally launched a data center practice group to serve property owners and investors in the creation of edge computing facilities. An edge data center, according to Shipman’s Dec. 17 announcement, is a data storage facility with cloud computing resources offering organizations a cost-effective solution to minimize response times and save on bandwidth.
Firm leaders said the global edge computing market is expected to increase to more than $43 billion by 2027, driven by the financial services and health care industries.
“This is a new and exciting opportunity to create a needed technology infrastructure to support our economic output and daily life in the Northeast,” said Lisa Zana, head of Shipman’s data center practice group and a partner in its real estate group. “There are cost-effective real estate options for investors and entrepreneurs who are interested in capitalizing on converting existing property into computing and data centers.”
Shipman & Goodwin has been challenged by the ongoing war for lateral talent, said Dolphin, though she noted lawyers are still attracted to the work-life balance and opportunities for promotions offered by her firm. She said the firm added 20 lawyers in the last year.
“I think the confluence of the great resignation and great retirement is something that all firms are grappling with,” she said. “We are absolutely looking to grow; we probably have eight or 10 positions open right now.”