After an extensive search for a new leader, Koreatown nonprofit law firm Public Counsel has named U.S. district court Judge Margaret Morrow its chief executive.

The hire, announced earlier this month, marks an end to the firm’s quest that began when Hernán D. Vera decided in 2013 to leave his longtime chief executive role to return to the private sector.

But for Morrow, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1998, the top role at Public Counsel provides a slew of opportunities she said don’t exist in her current position. After all, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm.

“A judge can only decide the cases that are assigned to that judge,” Morrow said. “He or she can’t look at the legal landscape and say, ‘I want to tackle that problem,’ and that’s what I think I want to get back to.”

More specifically, Morrow pointed to a defining moment early in her career that inspired her to help underprivileged people who otherwise couldn’t afford legal representation. At the time, she said, she was helping develop a pro bono service that catered to victims of domestic violence.

“I still remember, some 40 years later, I was sitting across a desk from a woman,” Morrow said. “She was alone and frightened and she never thought she would be able to escape the violence. I think, through the process and talking to her, I helped her realize there are choices she could make to improve her life.”

That’s the kind of work the lawyers at Public Counsel do every day, she said, and it’s the type of work she wants to return to.

Her official start date at the firm has not yet been determined, but Morrow said she expects it will be within the first week of next month. Until then, she will continue to serve as a judge with senior status in the federal court in Los Angeles for the Central District of California.

“I think it’s going to be one day I’ll be here and the next day I’ll be there,” she said.

Rand April has served as the interim chief executive since Vera joined Century City’s Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow in 2013. He will continue to stay involved with Public Counsel, which ranked No. 35 on the Business Journal’s list of largest L.A. law firms with 75 attorneys as of March.

“Public Counsel has grown rather exponentially over the last several years,” Morrow said. “But I think with coordination and support from me in terms of administrative and fundraising support, they can do even more.”

New Era

For the first time in its 62-year history, Ervin Cohen & Jessup in Beverly Hills has appointed a managing partner to run its day-to-day business.

Before this month’s transition, the firm was managed by an executive committee made up of multiple partners.

“The legal industry is in an era of constant change, so you need to be nimble and able to react,” said Barry MacNaughton, who has taken on the managing partner role. “You need to be able to do things quickly, without having to wait to get committee meetings together and get input from a lot of people.”

The executive committee will still exist but with a lighter workload. MacNaughton, who had served on the panel since 2009, said the group will now be more like a board of directors with him acting as chief executive.

“This allows attorneys to spend less time on administrative duties and more time focusing on clients,” he said.

MacNaughton added that the firm is looking to grow its entertainment, privacy and data security, and employment practice groups within the next three years.

“We’re also seeing a lot of growth in foreign money,” he said. “It’s kind of fun and exciting because you get to see what’s actually happening in the economy instead of just reading about it in the Business Journal.”

Legal Landscape

Westwood’s Liner has named Kalisha Crawford the firm’s first chief marketing officer. … Russell “Rusty” Weiss, former partner at Morrison Foerster, has joined the Century City office of Sidley Austin as a partner in the firm’s media and entertainment group. … Jay H. Paik, former partner at Nelson Hardiman, has rejoined the West L.A. boutique health care law firm as of counsel. Paik had left the firm in 2013 to serve as general counsel and vice president of business operations at the Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles. … Robert Scott Silver has joined the Brentwood office of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck as a partner in the firm’s employment practices liability group. Silver was previously a partner at Nemecek & Cole in Sherman Oaks.

Staff reporter Cale Ottens can be reached at cottens@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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