Dilworth Paxson L.L.P., an old-line Center City law firm long active in politics and civic life, has named Ajay Raju, a corporate lawyer with Reed Smith L.L.P., to serve as its new chief executive and cochairman.

Firm leaders said they expected Raju would help develop new business while bolstering Dilworth's civic involvement.

Raju, who for a time served as managing partner of Reed Smith's 170-lawyer Philadelphia office, has built a substantial practice representing corporate clients in mergers and acquisitions and other transactional work, and maintains close contacts with business interests in India, where he was born.

He will serve as cochairman alongside longtime Dilworth partner Lawrence G. McMichael.

"He is an innovative thinker," said Joseph Jacovini, a Dilworth partner who is currently cochairman but will step down from that role under the leadership change.

"What you are searching for is leadership. We are no different from any other firm. You can buy talent and you can buy business. What you cannot buy is leadership."

McMichael said Raju's expertise in so-called alternative-billing arrangements, in which clients are charged flat fees rather than hourly rates, would be useful at the firm.

"Ajay has a new and fresh approach to things, particularly in the way fees are structured," McMichael said. "He looks at things much more creatively than other lawyers might."

The Dilworth partnership voted to approve Raju's hiring Wednesday.

Raju serves on many of the city's most prominent boards and is said to be politically ambitious, although he said his main civic focus is to help bolster and highlight the city's many strengths - from its rich cultural offerings to the robust life sciences industry based in the region.

"This move is a little bit about doubling down on my own investment in the region," said Raju. "I wanted a life where my business and social commitments don't have to fight with one another."

Reed Smith is a Pittsburgh-based firm with more than 1,000 lawyers and global horizons, where Dilworth Paxson has just over 100 lawyers and offices centered in the mid-Atlantic region.

Raju said Dilworth's long tradition of civic involvement tracked well with his interest in bolstering the city's economy and cultural life.

"This institution is invested in the same things that I am," Raju said.

Raju, 43, immigrated to the United States with his family at age 14. He did his undergraduate work at Temple University and also went to law school there. He is a board member of the World Affairs Council and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other regional institutions. He lives in Center City with his wife and three children.

Dilworth Paxson was founded in 1933 and flourished under the leadership of Harold Kohn, a former city solicitor who, for a time, became one of the most successful lawyers in the country pursuing antitrust cases on behalf of corporate clients. He is recognized as one of the first lawyers in the country to employ class-action lawsuits, and developed that litigation tactic as a powerful tool on behalf of clients.

It was also the firm of Richardson Dilworth, a top litigator who later was elected mayor and forged a national reputation for reforming city politics and government. The firm became known for enlightened politics and civic involvement.

Dilworth Paxson broke with the discriminatory practices of Philadelphia's old-line law firms in 1952 by hiring William T. Coleman, a young African American lawyer who graduated at the top of his class from Harvard Law School and who clerked with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Before he was offered a job by Dilworth Paxson, Coleman had been rejected by every other top firm in the city.

Coleman was close to Thurgood Marshall, who later would become a Supreme Court justice, and the two, along with Louis Pollak, a former federal district court judge and dean of the University of Pennsylvania law school, wrote many of the briefs that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.

Dilworth said that Coleman did much of the work on that civil rights case while he was a lawyer there, and described Coleman's work on the case as the firm's "work product."

Dilworth Paxson grew to about 150 lawyers by 1990, but cut back to about half that size a few years later. The firm has since grown to more than 100 lawyers again, but has been surpassed, in size at least, by other long-established Philadelphia firms like Morgan Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. and Dechert L.L.P., with hundreds more lawyers and offices scattered throughout the United States and abroad.

Jacovini and McMichael said Dilworth had adopted a different model for itself, focusing on high-quality work and long-term client relationships, and an absence of debt.