Venable makes changes at top


Venable LLP, the law firm that traces a 100-year history to its origins in Baltimore, announced yesterday changes in its highest ranks that elevated Karl A. Racine to managing partner, making him one of only a handful of black lawyers to lead a major firm.

Racine replaces James L. Shea, who will succeed Benjamin R. Civiletti as chairman. Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general, will remain on the firm's board and lead its charitable foundation while continuing his practice. The 470-attorney firm, which is based in Washington and has offices from New York to Virginia, specializes in corporate law, complex litigation, intellectual property and government affairs.

"The time was exactly right to elevate the next generation of firm leadership," said Civiletti, who is 70. He called Racine "a star litigator with a first-rate legal mind" who is a "natural leader."

Racine's appointment comes as Venable formed this year a strategic alliance with Brown & Sheehan LLP, a minority-owned law firm in Baltimore. The firms will remain independent but work together on cases, with Venable tapping into Brown & Sheehan's experience in public finance and the smaller firm benefiting from Venable's broader reach.

Racine, 43, joins a small club of prominent black leaders in the business of law, including Richard D. Parsons, now CEO of Time Warner, the world's largest media company. Parsons was managing partner at New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler.

"I'm certainly aware of the absence of diversity in law firm leadership," Racine said.

Racine was born in Haiti and immigrated to the District of Columbia with his family at age 3. He began his career as a Venable associate in 1989 but left to work in the D.C. Public Defender Service and later in the Clinton White House, where he advised the staff on ethics inquiries, including a campaign finance investigation by the Justice Department.

Venable has been expanding its presence in Washington under Civiletti, and recent hires include Nancy Bryson, who was general counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Civiletti joined the firm when he stepped down as attorney general in 1981 and recently made headlines by becoming the first lawyer to charge $1,000 an hour, according to The National Law Journal.

Shea said the firm is looking to expand in California, where he is negotiating with several unnamed parties. The firm plans to maintain its large presence in Baltimore, where Shea and Racine have offices in addition to their Washington offices.

"We're not turning away from Baltimore," said Shea, 53. "We still have more lawyers in the city than any other firm."

Since 1994, when Shea became managing partner, Venable has more than doubled its number of attorneys and tripled its revenue, to $239 million.

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