Come Jan. 1, Holland & Hart will have a new partner at the helm.
Chris Balch, a Denver-based M&A attorney who has spent almost his entire 20-year legal career at Holland & Hart, was elected its new firm chair. He’s set to take over for Liz Sharrer, who chaired the 450-plus-attorney firm for the past six years.
The leadership switch comes as the 72-year-old firm, which has offices in eight Western states and in Washington, D.C., carries out a new strategic plan. Balch and Sharrer talked with Law Week about the leadership transition and how Holland & Hart is looking to adjust to the changing legal market.
LAW WEEK (to Balch): In what ways do you think your M&A practice experience informs your management and decision-making style?
BALCH: I’ll tell you that M&A practitioners, we often have to quarterback large teams — large teams of subject matter experts, for example — on any given transaction. So you’ve got to seek advice from those subject matter experts, then you’ve got to try and distill complex information down into basic parts and then help your client navigate the broader deal context and then make informed business decisions. So, you know, I feel that my practice as an M&A lawyer has sharpened those skills, and they translate in my view pretty well into the managerial context and dealing with organizational behavior and decision making.
I also think M&A practitioners have to have a certain level of EQ, or emotional intelligence, coupled with empathy to excel in what they do, whether that’s managing your client, people on your client’s team, managing the counterparty or the counterparty’s team. I think strong M&A practitioners tend to read the room well, they’re empathetic to others’ circumstances and needs and at times act almost as a psychologist. Most importantly, I think as an M&A lawyer leading transactions, you have to remain calm, measured and balanced during the most stressful of times, often, for your client. And I think again, it’s those characteristics, skills and attributes that I think lend themselves well to managerial or executive roles.
When you’re working with 200-plus partners, and also have 900-plus employees’ lives in your hands, I think it’s important to be measured and balanced in your approach. I think it’s also very important to listen to all the voices in the hallways in order to make informed decisions and to inform yourself before making those decisions. I think, like in M&A, [the new role] is a very bottom-up, team-based approach, and there are some nice parallels there with what I do on a daily basis.