Venable Announces Senior Management Changes: Managing Partner Jim Shea Becomes Firm Chair; Longtime Chair Benjamin Civiletti to Focus on Investigations/Governance Practice; Karl Racine Named Managing Partner

7 min

Coming off its 11th consecutive year of revenue growth and increased profits, Venable LLP has announced several senior management changes, signaling a historic changing of the guard for the 100-year-old Washington-area legal institution.

Managing partner James L. Shea, who has served in that position since 1994, becomes chair of the 470-attorney firm, succeeding former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti.  Mr. Civiletti, who helped build Venable into a premier national firm based in Washington, will remain a member of the firm’s board and will continue to head the Venable Foundation, while also devoting more time to his practice as one of the country’s leading corporate investigations attorneys.  Mr. Civiletti is one of only a few former U.S. Attorneys General in private practice.

Karl A. Racine, who was appointed deputy managing partner last summer, has been elected managing partner.  A former associate White House counsel under President Clinton as well as a former public defender in Washington, Mr. Racine has been a litigator in Venable’s civil and white collar practice groups. 

“It is a great honor to assume the chairmanship from my longtime partner and friend Ben Civiletti, who has taken our firm to great heights and who continues to set a remarkable example through his service to our clients, and his commitment to the community and to the legal profession,” said Mr. Shea.  “Indeed, we expect Ben to remain engaged in firm affairs, while staying active with his substantial practice in litigation, corporate investigations and corporate governance.  Ben will continue to oversee the Venable Foundation, which supports a span of philanthropic activities in the communities in which the firm operates − Washington, Maryland, Virginia and New York.”

In the 11 years since Mr. Shea became managing partner, Venable has transformed into a national firm with a primary base in Washington, DC.   The firm has grown from 227 attorneys to 470, with significant practices in government relations and legislative counsel, litigation and corporate investigations, tax, real estate, corporate finance and business transactions, telecommunications, transportation, intellectual property, and homeland security.  During that same 11-year period, firm revenue has more than tripled from $68 million to $239 million. 

Last summer, Venable opened a New York office by combining with the New York white collar and commercial litigation firm Heard & O’Toole.  The firm is actively pursuing further expansion in California.

As firm-wide chair, Mr. Shea will focus on strategic planning, firm expansion and business development.  Venable has been among the leaders in acquiring top legal and government talent in Washington, bringing in former U.S. Senators and Congressmen, ex-Cabinet members, and high-ranking policy makers and regulators.  Recent additions have included USDA General Counsel Nancy Bryson, Joint Committee on Taxation Legislation Counsel Ray Beeman, former senior bank regulator Ralph Sharpe, and Treazure Johnson, former Senior Assistant Chief Litigation Counsel for the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

Karl Racine Background

In electing Karl Racine managing partner, Venable is making a seamless shift in leadership.  

Mr. Racine, 43, began his career as a Venable litigation associate in 1989.  He left Venable to serve in the D.C. Public Defender’s Service, the first of several positions in the legal and political landscape of Washington, DC that would lead him back to Venable as a litigation partner in 2002.  After serving as a Public Defender, he became a partner in the Washington law firm of Cacheris & Treanor.  

From 1997 to 2000, he served in the Clinton White House, representing the President and White House staff on civil and criminal investigations, including Congressional, Justice Department, and Office of Independent Counsel inquiries.  He was part of a team of lawyers responsible for selecting local judges in the District of Columbia, as well as federal judges and other Presidential appointments.  Mr. Racine also advised White House staff on inquiries into government ethics.

Since returning to Venable, he has been engaged in some of the firm’s most significant litigation matters, including the defense of one of the largest civil rights class actions in the country and corporate investigations.  In early 2005, Mr. Racine became chair of legal personnel, in charge of all associate recruitment, training and development.  Then in August, he was named deputy managing partner, a new position at the firm.  In this capacity, he worked closely with Mr. Shea, and the firm’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee in every aspect of firm management.

Born in Haiti, Mr. Racine emigrated to the United States and settled in the District of Columbia with his family at the age of three.  Prior to leaving Haiti, his father was mayor of Croix Des Bouquettes, a city near Port-au-Prince.  His mother earned her Ph.D. in French and Linguistics from Georgetown University and is a professor at the University of the District of Columbia.

“I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities that living in the United States has afforded me,” Mr. Racine said.  “My parents taught me the importance of giving back to the community.  For this reason, I chose to become a public defender and remain active in the community where I was raised.”  At the Public Defender Service, he established a reputation as a fierce advocate and was frequently asked to testify before the D.C. City Council on juvenile crime issues.  Mr. Racine has served on the Board of the Public Defender Service since 2003.

Mr. Racine is active in the firm’s pro bono efforts and community outreach, representing individuals on a range of issues and participating in programs, such as Street Law.

Mr. Racine graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985 with a degree in Economics.  He was a four-year letterman on Penn’s varsity basketball team and, as a two-time captain and MVP, led Penn to the Ivy League championship in 1985.  Mr. Racine received the school’s most prestigious Senior Award, the Spoon, which seniors bestow upon the classmate with the most potential.

Mr. Racine earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1989.  Prior to graduating from law school, Mr. Racine studied French and French Civilization at the Sorbonne in Paris and taught English in Zimbabwe.  In 1994, he worked with his mother to co-author the first Haitian/Creole/English legal dictionary − a critical resource to thousands of Haitians who immigrate to the United States.

On Change in Leadership

“I am grateful to all my colleagues at Venable for the opportunity to take on this senior management role,” Mr. Racine said.  “Under the leadership of Ben Civiletti and Jim Shea, Venable has undergone tremendous growth in terms of size, profitability and prestige – we have become a national firm while still maintaining strong roots in Washington, Baltimore and the greater DC area.  We’re on sound financial footing and our intention is to build on the marked successes of the past decade, as well as on the traditions that have made Venable a great firm for well over a century.”

Mr. Civiletti, who has been with Venable since stepping down as U.S. Attorney General in 1981, commented on the shift in management:  “The satisfaction of leading our firm to national prominence, with across-the-board practice strength and outstanding professionals, along with a welcoming culture and commitment to the community, has been immeasurable.  The time was exactly right to elevate the next generation of firm leadership.”

“As I devote myself to my own practice and to our firm’s wonderful charitable foundation, it’s a great feeling to know that my longtime partner Jim Shea will be standing in as chair, at a time when we continue to move into new markets and plan for a next level of national and even international expansion,” Mr. Civiletti added.

“At the same time, we are fortunate to have Karl Racine as our new managing partner.  A star litigator with a first-rate legal mind, Karl is a natural leader, capable of inspiring the firm’s lawyers and professionals to work together to achieve new heights.  He is a home-grown Washington product with exactly the right skill set and vision to lead Venable for years ahead.”

Photographs available upon request.

One of the American Lawyer’s top 100 law firms, Venable LLP has attorneys practicing in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property and government affairs. Venable serves corporate, institutional, governmental, nonprofit and individual clients throughout the U.S. and around the world from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and offices in California, Maryland, New York and Virginia.