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A powerful Philly-based law firm just named its first openly gay leader in nearly 140 years

Ballard Spahr LLP Chair Mark Stewart will step down next December, and Peter Michaud, a Minneapolis-based partner, has been chosen to fill the position.

Peter V. Michaud (L) will succeed Mark Stewart as chair of Ballard Spahr LLP
Peter V. Michaud (L) will succeed Mark Stewart as chair of Ballard Spahr LLPRead moreKatie Krzaczek / Ballard Spahr

In a move that underscored its increasing national focus, Ballard Spahr LLP announced Wednesday a succession plan that will place the firm’s leadership outside Philadelphia for the first time.

The firm’s chair, Mark Stewart, 66, will step down as of Dec. 31, 2023. And Peter Michaud, 53, a Minneapolis-based partner at the firm and the chair of its Business and Transactions Department, has been elected to fill the role. Stewart will return to everyday practice as a partner at the firm.

Michaud, who will split his time between Minneapolis and Philadelphia, is not only the first leader in the firm’s 137-year history to come from outside the region. He is also the first Ballard leader to identify as an openly gay man.

“When I first started practicing, openly gay attorneys were uncommon,” Michaud said by email. “It would mean a lot to me if, at the end of my career, that weren’t the case and that Ballard had played a small part in contributing to diverse attorneys, LGBTQ+ people among them, knowing that they are welcome.”

Ballard ranks 93rd among the country’s largest 100 law firms by revenue.

Stewart, who has led the firm since 2011, called Michaud “an extraordinary talent, a friend, and someone who has been a key part of the leadership of the firm over the past several years,” according to a company statement.

Stewart’s stepping down is in line with a Ballard Spahr policy that partners 65 or older cannot run for the chair seat, he told the Legal Intelligencer.

Michaud and Stewart will work closely during an 18-month transition period.

Michaud noted that “last year, the firm had its best financial performance ever” despite the pandemic.

“[Stewart] has guided Ballard through an economic downturn to historic growth in both headcount and revenue,” Michaud said, referring to the firm’s expansion to 15 offices across the country and 643 practicing lawyers. “He helped us navigate a global pandemic with strength, humanity, and an unwavering focus on the needs of our clients, lawyers, and staff.”

Ballard Spahr is often noted as one of the most powerful law firms based in Philadelphia, where it maintains its largest office, with 222 lawyers. The Washington office ranks second, with 81 lawyers.

Over the past 10 years, Ballard has merged with several firms across the country, expanding its footprint and its practice areas to include lawyers in intellectual property, First Amendment rights, and mergers and acquisitions.

In 2018, it merged with Lindquist & Vennum, which gave the firm an expanded presence in Denver, as well as new locations in Sioux Falls, S.D., and in Minneapolis, where Michaud had worked since 1996.

Michaud, who has a home in Minnesota and an apartment in Philadelphia, said traveling among Ballard’s 15 offices will keep him busy. “I foresee a lot of frequent-flier miles in my future,” he said.

At the time of the Lindquist merger, Stewart told The Inquirer, “It’s not that we felt our size was an impediment, or clients didn’t think we were impressive enough with only 550 attorneys [before the two mergers]. It was a strategic move to increase the depth of our business practice, and expand into a region of the country where we were not located. It all looked right to us. I don’t see numbers as being the goal. I see the strength of the practice being the goal.”

Michaud echoed Stewart’s sentiment, saying, “There isn’t any magic number for offices or attorneys.” But he suspects one area that the firm will continue to grow is environmental, social, and governance [ESG] work.

“Clients are looking to us to develop and maintain their ESG strategies, and this area aligns with our recognized skill in litigation, environmental law, public finance, securities, and corporate governance,” Michaud said.

In Philadelphia, Ballard represents local notables including the Phillies, DuPont, and Comcast. Marcel S. Pratt, formerly the City of Philadelphia’s top lawyer, is managing partner of the firm’s Philadelphia office.

And Ballard lawyer Henry Hockeimer Jr. represents John Dougherty, the former business manager for IBEW Local 98 who was found guilty in November of federal bribery charges. Dougherty is awaiting sentencing on those charges.

In advance of Dougherty’s second trial, set to begin next week, motions filed by prosecutors revealed an informant in the former labor leader’s inner circle. Hockeimer maintains that his client’s first trial may have been tainted if the informant’s recordings included conversations about trial preparations.