Whiteford names Coe, 48, firm's managing partner

June 16, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

Whiteford, Taylor & Preston said yesterday that it had named Ward B. Coe III its managing partner, as the state's fifth-biggest law firm passed leadership to a younger generation of partners.

The 48-year-old Mr. Coe, who was elected last month but took over yesterday, is the youngest attorney ever to serve as managing partner of the 120-lawyer firm. He has been with Whiteford since 1977, and before his election was a litigator in the firm's commercial/business litigation group and a member of its three-person management committee.

"One thing I'm going to do is keep practicing law. You can manage a law firm and do that," said Mr. Coe, a former Marine infantry officer who served in Vietnam after graduating from Princeton in 1967. "I'm starting off at a nice time. From our viewpoint, the economy is resurging strongly."

Mr. Coe succeeded Louis G. Close Jr., who had been managing partner since 1988. Mr. Close, 59, said he will return to Whiteford's products liability litigation group.

Mr. Coe's election makes Whiteford the second major Maryland firm in recent months to choose a lawyer in his 40s as managing partner. Piper & Marbury elevated Francis Burch Jr. to chairman last year.

Mr. Coe said the trend toward younger leaders stems from the fast growth of big law firms during the 1980s.

"The guys in their 50s came to partnerships when the firms were smaller," Mr. Coe said. "The expansion years of these law firms in the 1980s have produced a lot of partners in their 40s. It's not surprising that you have a lot of heads of practice groups and managing partners in their 40s."

Mr. Coe's most public work at Whiteford came in the wake of the 1985 collapse of state-chartered savings and loan associations whose deposits were insured by the Maryland Savings Share Insurance Corp. He served as assistant to Whiteford senior partner Wilbur D. Preston Jr., who was named special counsel by then-Gov. Harry Hughes to investigate how the S&Ls collapsed and how laws should be changed to prevent a repeat performance.

The 1973 University of Maryland Law School graduate became a partner at Whiteford in 1980. He had previously worked in Maryland's attorney general's office. He will serve a two-year term, which is renewable on re-election by the partnership.

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