Murphy Takes The Lead At Varnum

June 4, 2008
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Larry Murphy says being elected to the position of managing partner for Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett was “the most flattering event” that has occurred in his career. He believes his eight-year tenure on Varnum’s Policy Committee has prepared him for that leading role.

As Varnum’s new managing partner, Murphy has taken on the additional responsibilities of overseeing the firm’s strategic plan and overseeing day-to-day operations of the firm, which includes 160 lawyers across five offices in Michigan and the Midwest. As he puts it: “The buck now stops with me.”

Murphy has been with the firm 10 years, representing many of Varnum’s top clients in all aspects of labor and employment law. Having  served on Varnum’s Policy Committee for the past eight years, Murphy is well acquainted with the firm’s management issues.

Murphy studied the natural sciences as an undergrad at University of Michigan and gave some thought to a career in medicine. But after a two-week stint at University Hospital in Ann Arbor, he decided against that career path. He went on to earn a law degree from Wayne State University instead. Looking back, Murphy believes he was indirectly influenced by his father who, though not a lawyer, served as his company’s representative at labor negotiation meetings.

“Through osmosis, I think, was how I picked up that bug,” he joked. “I decided to take a shot at law, and once I got into law school, it was pretty clear it was right for me.”

Murphy worked for Howard and Howard Attorneys PC of Kalamazoo from 1979 to 1998, where he was basically a legal jack of all trades. There, he had a chance to work on a variety of cases, and he believes those early experiences gave him a solid base and a “360-degree view” of the law.

During those years, employment law emerged as an area to be reckoned with, and Murphy got into it early on. After practicing nearly 19 years with Howard and Howard, Murphy decided it was time for change. There were opportunities available to him at several law firms, including Varnum.

“My experience with Varnum lawyers through the years while I was at Howard and Howard was always positive,” Murphy recalled. “They always presented themselves professionally, and they were at the top of their game. So when the time came to make a change, Varnum was at the top of my list.”

He joined Varnum in 1998 as a partner and labor and employment relations attorney in the firm’s Kalamazoo office.

His peers elected him managing partner in May. At Varnum, the managing partner slot is typically for a term of approximately five years, Murphy noted. He’s now in the process of relocating to Grand Rapids.

“Larry takes the helm at an important time in the firm’s history and at a time of change in the legal industry,” said former Managing Partner Bill Lawrence. “His election by the partners shows the confidence the firm has in his leadership ability.”

There are a number of factors that have merged to make the practice of law much different than it was just a few years ago, Murphy said: The economic challenges that Michigan faces impacts law firms just like any other business; there’s increased competition in the industry both nationally and internationally, and clients are demanding an expanded menu of legal services.

“We have to be always mindful of what the market place is presenting to us in conjunction with what our competition is doing,” he remarked.

On the upside, the changing times have presented new opportunities for law firms, Murphy added. He said Varnum has invested significantly internally and externally to build practice groups and stay on top of growing areas of law.

“As one of our focus areas, we’ve been spending a lot of time on health care and what’s now called the life sciences, of which health care is a component,” Murphy remarked. “We will continue to try to make inroads and expand our life sciences practice. For us to remain a go-to law firm, we have to be — and we are out there in front of that.”

The attorneys and staff at Varnum are enthusiastic, dedicated and conscientious, Murphy said, and being part of that is what helps him get up every morning. The challenges of the practice also get his juices flowing, he added. 

Murphy is a member of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Michigan, the American Bar Association and a member of the state bars of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. LQX

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