Photo by Andrew Kahl.

Photo by Andrew Kahl.

The chair-elect of Morgan Lewis & Bockius takes over the top spot at the firm on Oct. 1 perhaps in part because she’s done everything else there so well already. Jami Wintz McKeon, a 1981 Villanova Law graduate, rose to prominence as a premier litigator and ultimately took leadership of the sprawling global firm’s litigation practice group; but along the way she’s played an integral role in recruitment, compensation and business policy determinations, grounding her in every aspect of law firm management.

She joins a select group of women who have reached the pinnacle of BigLaw. How did she do it? “A good marriage is nice; great child care is indispensable,” she was quoted as saying in a Philadelphia Inquirer feature in June. That wasn’t all, of course; requisite for her climb were intellectual firepower, drive and a passion for the work. But there is also a down-to-earth authenticity that comes through about McKeon, along with the sense of humor and confidence that let her share her recipe for Philadelphia Cheesesteak Spring Rolls with Lawdragon readers (below).

Lawdragon: As chair of Morgan Lewis, you’re responsible for the operations and future of a firm with more than 1,500 lawyers in 25 offices around the world. At what point in your career did this job become perhaps something you wanted, and what parts of your experience in the past have been most relevant to the challenges you face now?

Jami Wintz McKeon: I never set out to be chair of the firm, but I had opportunities early on in my career to play a variety of roles at Morgan Lewis and in the legal community, and I found each to be rewarding on a personal level. As an associate and young partner, I was involved with our recruiting and promotion committees and in the administration of our practice group, and those experiences greatly enriched my career at the firm.

My time in San Francisco and leading the firmwide Litigation practice were both good experiences that helped prepare me for the challenges that I face as chair, as did my several terms on the firm’s advisory board and compensation committee. I moved to San Francisco in 2004 to lead the firm’s integration and expansion efforts on the West Coast. It was a real risk because we were bringing in a very large group of lawyers, and we knew that acclimating them to a new firm would not be easy. In addition, I had great relationships with clients, partners, and other lawyers on the East Coast and few on the West. And, on a personal level, our two youngest children were in grade school, our two older children were in college on the East Coast, and all of our family lived on the East Coast. I looked at it as an exciting opportunity, and, with the support of a lot of others at the firm, the expansion efforts were hugely successful.

Being the firmwide litigation practice leader for five years, from 2009 to 2014, and the deputy leader for the prior five years was also good preparation. I was in charge of the firm’s largest practice group by virtually every measure. During my tenure, we expanded significantly, including internationally, and took our practice to an even higher level. I had the chance to work with a team of outstanding leaders in our practice group and to work closely with our Chair and other practice group leaders, which deepened my knowledge of the firm and our clients even further.

LD: You spent more than 25 years primarily as a top litigator, with an extraordinary record in large, complex cases. Presumably, you spend less time now up to your elbows in the specifics of cases. Do you miss the courtroom personally and, assuming you do, what do you take the most satisfaction from in your current position?

JM: Yes, I definitely miss being in the courtroom as much as I used to be; however, I am still practicing law because I think it is an important part of understanding your clients and their needs and staying in touch with what is going on in the industry and profession. I also really like my clients, and I enjoy interacting with them and helping them solve their problems.

In my new position, I enjoy working with my colleagues in every office and practice group and at every level of seniority. I spend a lot of time with our clients, and not just those I have represented, and I find those interactions both extremely interesting and rewarding. I also like being involved in helping to guide the direction and the tone for the firm. Being the chair is an enormous responsibility that I take very seriously, and I have a fantastic team all focused on the same goal: delivering to our clients the best possible legal counsel and providing unrelenting, top-notch client service. To be able to do so in a firm where I genuinely respect, like, and value my colleagues is something for which I am very grateful.

LD: You’ve been an innovator in the area of alternative fee arrangements. How did that come about and how has that worked out for the firm? Do you think there’s a longer-term trend toward alternative billing or is it just another business option to have available?

JM: First, thank you for the compliment because I do believe we are market leaders in this area. The decision to use alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) about two decades ago was driven by our clients’ desire to achieve predictability and cost savings while, at the same time, ensuring that it made good business sense for our firm.

We discovered quickly that, if you think outside the box and consider AFAs to be a creative and positive way to look at a solution, they can be very effective. We know our clients are under enormous pressure to reduce spending on outside counsel costs while also effectively managing complex legal and business issues, and we want to do our part to deliver value and exceptional client service. The truth is, however, that AFAs can be disastrous for both the client and the firm if people don’t know what they are doing or if they are seen as simply an economic issue.

We have a very positive view of AFAs, and we dedicate considerable time and resources to making sure that we are recommending the right approach for each matter. We understand the importance of achieving a higher level of efficiency in staffing and managing our matters and in using lawyers who really know how to get to the heart of a problem quickly and who present great solutions to the client. We know that understanding the client’s goals for the matter or portfolio of cases and the scope of the work is vital, as is having open and continuous communication with our clients. In the end, we view AFAs as a strength in our partnerships with our clients.

We believe there is a longer-term movement toward AFAs, and we stand ready for the increased demand. We are fortunate to work for a number of clients across several industries who are willing to partner with us to try new structures that drive efficiency, productivity, and results, and we look forward to working with clients who don’t already use AFAs once they are ready to do so. We have a number of clients who prefer hourly-based billing arrangements because we offer a terrific value, given our budgeting discipline, competitive rates, and high-quality results. We are also very proud of our track record for using value-based billing in the areas of high-stakes litigation, asset protection and risk transfer, and corporate transactions as well as the many ways that our firm has assisted clients in driving cost management of large portfolios of similar litigation on a fixed-fee basis. We also represent clients in the right circumstances on a contingency basis. Our innovation knows no limits – we will keep at it until every one of our clients feels that we have exceeded their expectations in terms of our overall value.

LD: You went to Penn State and on to Villanova Law. Do you have any particularly memorable professors or courses?

JM: I loved Russian literature and political courses in college. In law school, I greatly admired the late Professor Mary Joe Frug. She was a progressive, provocative, and intellectually engaging woman.

LD: The law, in general, is a far more diverse profession than when you started out. As chair of Morgan Lewis, what can you tell us about how the firm promotes diversity and how will it do so in the future?

JM: Diversity and inclusion are core values of our firm and are part of our strategic plan. We incorporate diversity and inclusion into every aspect so that they are woven into the fabric of the firm (recruiting, professional development, business development, etc.). In order to ensure that partners make diversity a priority, the firm measures partners on their individual commitment to enhancing diversity in their practice groups and across the firm as part of our partner review process. We have a diversity committee that was started more than 10 years ago; as chair, I sit on that committee along with many senior partners in the firm. We have a full-time director of diversity, who reports directly to me. We also partner with many clients on projects in an effort to increase and enhance diversity in the legal profession.

We believe that our firm will continue to be most successful if we attract and retain the most talented people and permit them to work in an environment that is motivating and supportive. We have a welcoming and inclusive environment, where anyone with talent, energy, and desire can succeed – a true meritocracy. We believe we can get the best and most creative solutions for our clients when we have diverse teams made up of people with different and varying backgrounds and experiences.

LD: The firm has a longtime commitment to pro bono work. How are pro bono cases selected? Is it more based on the interests of individual lawyers or is it more guided from above?

JM: Both. We try to strike a balance between developing specialized areas of expertise, such as our award-winning veterans’ law work or Immigration Practice, which tend to be led from above, and honoring the impulses of our lawyers in choosing pro bono cases based on their individual interests. And, sometimes, cases chosen based on individual interests end up becoming specialized areas of expertise organically. For instance, when I was a junior lawyer, a number of my counterparts made a real effort to become involved in the representation of individuals on death row whose constitutional rights had been violated. Now, 30 years later, our death penalty pro bono practice is a hallmark of our program, and our firm was recognized last year with the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project’s Exceptional Service Award, which is given to firms that show a lasting, multi-decade commitment in this area.

We are very proud of our pro bono practice, which has been in existence since the founding of the firm. Last year alone, we contributed more than 70,000 hours of pro bono work to indigent individuals and nonprofit organizations. And we have a fantastic partner, Amanda Smith, who is dedicated full time to running our pro bono program, which makes it very accessible for all of our lawyers.

LD: You’ve said before that if you weren’t a lawyer, you might be a chef. Could you share a favorite recipe?

JM: I am glad to. (In fact, I am a big believer that people should share recipes!) I have plenty of favorites, but, being from Philadelphia, I am going to share a recipe beloved by Philadelphians.

Philadelphia Cheesesteak Spring Rolls


Spring Rolls:

4 tablespoons of olive oil

1 ½ lbs top loin beef, trimmed and shaved thin

1/3 lb American cheese, cut in ½ inch pieces

1/4 lb provolone cheese, cut into ½ inch pieces


Fresh black pepper

6 egg yolks, slightly beaten

Canola oil

8 spring roll wrappers (9 ½ inches)*

*Note: You can use egg roll wrappers, but spring roll wrappers are better


½ cup ketchup

1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 ½ tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper


1.    Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.

2.    Add beef and cook, stirring, until no longer pink (5–7 mins); break up into pieces while cooking.

3.    Drain and discard liquid.

4.    Return to skillet over medium-low heat, and stir in cheeses until melted (2–3 mins).

5.    Season with salt and pepper. Cool.

6.    Remove wrappers from package. Cover wrappers with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Remove one at a time. Brush entire surface w/egg yolk. Form 1/4 beef into a log along one edge of wrapper (leaving some space on each side of the beef). Roll up wrapper, leaving ends open.

7.    Place a second wrapper on work surface with the corner facing you, brush corners with yolk. Lay first roll across bottom corner of second wrapper. Roll up, tightly folding ends over halfway through. Press down slightly to seal. Set aside.

8.    Pour canola oil into a heavy medium pot to 2 inches depth over medium heat (350 degrees on candy thermometer). Fry in two batches, turning over halfway through until golden brown (8 minutes).

9.    Cut into thirds on the bias.

10. Serve w/ sauce: Mix 1/2 cup ketchup, 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1 ½ tablespoons honey, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper.

*Note: If you use egg roll wrappers, do not use two wrappers as noted above. Instead, lay the wrapper on surface diagonally, with point toward you. Brush with egg yolk. Put small amount of beef (1–2 tablespoons) on bottom and roll halfway up, bringing in corners and finishing. You can use ground beef if you can’t get shaved beef. You can freeze these either before or after cooking if you have extra or want to make them ahead of time.