How I Made Litigation Department Co-Chair: 'My Leadership Skills, and Building Strong Relationships With My Colleagues,' Says Shawn Wright of Blank Rome
Law.com's How I Made It series features conversations with legal industry leaders about how they climbed the ladder of success and what they learned along the way. Below is a featured interview with Blank Rome's Shawn M. Wright.
Shawn M. Wright, 54, Blank Rome, Washington, D.C.
Job title: Partner; co-chair, litigation department; co-chair, Washington, D.C., office.
Practice area: White-collar defense and investigations.
Law school and year of graduation: Santa Clara University School of Law, 1995.
How long have you been at the firm? Nineteen years.
When were you promoted to your current role? Jan. 1, 2022.
Were you a partner at another firm before joining your present firm? No.
What do you think was the deciding point for the firm to elect you to your current role? Proven leadership skills. I have been at Blank Rome for 19 years and during this time, I have served on several committees and in a number of leadership roles, including practice group leader of our white-collar defense and investigations group; chair of the lawyers promotion committee; member of the executive committee and partner board; hiring partner of our Washington, D.C., office; and co-chair of the Washington, D.C., office. These roles have provided me with an opportunity to understand how the firm works, develop my unique leadership skills, and build strong relationships with my colleagues. This experience, coupled with the respect I have earned throughout the firm and my ability to motivate others, gained the confidence of Blank Rome’s chair, Alan Hoffman, and managing partner and CEO, Grant Palmer, in my ability to successfully co-chair the litigation department, which comprises more than 300 attorneys across 14 offices.
What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? It is definitely relationship-driven. When you get to know and like your clients through mutual interests, such as serving on boards together or through other hobbies or passions, you connect on a deeper level and genuinely want to help them succeed and vice versa. I always strive in my relationships to be a trusted partner who solves problems and adds value. And to authentically enjoy doing it!
Who had the greatest influence on your career and helped propel you to your current role? Both Grant Palmer, Blank Rome’s managing partner and CEO, and Alan Hoffman, the firm’s chair, have supported and encouraged my growth and leadership journey over the years. Earlier in my career, Mike Dyer, who was the chair of my former firm, Dyer Ellis & Joseph, and then became co-chair of Blank Rome when the two firms merged in 2003, and Jim Ellis, former chair of the Washington, D.C., office, were similarly supportive and sponsoring of me. I am very grateful for the four of them seeing my potential, even before I did. There are also a number of my partners, former and current, who provided me with amazing opportunities to be challenged in the law and in my law firm. To them I am forever grateful.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a partner who is interested in leading a practice group. I have often shared the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” As a leader, you must think bigger than yourself; leadership is about the greater good. My leadership experience has taught me to think more strategically about the group, department, or office for which I serve. Sometimes that means stretching, being creative, or playing the long game with no immediate return. Good leaders must be able to see and work for that bigger picture and long-term goals.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself? I would have focused on relationship-building and business development earlier in my career. As a young lawyer, I immersed myself in my work. Once I started to serve my firm on various committees and in leadership roles, I began to better understand the inner workings of large law firms and what keeps them healthy, including personal branding, relationship-building, and business development. Since then, my mantra has been “just say yes!” This mantra has led me to become involved with organizations, attend events, and serve in roles that I otherwise might not have. And, as a result, I have been able to build meaningful relationships and friendships, of which some have referred or become new clients.
What three words or phrases or statements or mantras would you use to describe your work mindset? “Always be authentic” and “Bring your whole self to work.” No one can be a better me than me. If you are open to new experiences, relationships, and challenges, and are authentic in how you show up, the opportunities available to you will grow exponentially.
What initiatives are you working on and what is the impact you hope to achieve? For more than 75 years, Blank Rome’s core values of respect for the individual, the community, and the law have driven and inspired our firm leadership. As co-chair of our Washington, D.C., office, one of our areas of focus has been pro bono service and investing in social justice. Each year, dozens of our D.C. attorneys are named to the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll, which recognizes area attorneys who provide 50 or more hours of pro bono service in a year. One of the D.C. office’s pro bono partners is the D.C. Legal Aid Society and its Making Justice Real campaign. The goal is to continue to provide opportunities for our attorneys to be impactful in the communities where we work.
Diversity is another core value at Blank Rome. While the legal industry still has much work to do in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I am proud of the initiatives we have launched, including recently our BR Achieve and BR Belonging programs. BR Achieve is a professional development training program tailored for junior associates who are active members of our BR United affinity group, focusing on building professional and technical skills while also having open discussions about how to thrive in Big Law. BR Belonging is our BR United affinity group’s signature mentorship and sponsorship program with two tracks—one for associates and one for junior partners—meant to address the holistic needs of participants, including professional development, business development, community and networking, and wellness while also providing resources and information to help navigate the law firm work environment. I have served as a mentor to many young attorneys through these programs.
I have also been involved in our annual Women’s Leadership Summit, which is now in its sixth year and brings together our women partners, clients, and friends of the firm for a one-of-a-kind event that has resulted in a strong network of women that grows year after year. •
"How I Made Litigation Department Co-Chair: 'My Leadership Skills, and Building Strong Relationships With My Colleagues,' Says Shawn Wright of Blank Rome," by Tasha Norman was published on August 10, 2022, in Law.com, as part of Law.com’s How I Made It series.