William Scarbrough brings breadth, depth of experience to Varnum as executive director


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

From national firms such as Kirkland & Ellis and Baker McKenzie to Detroit-based Bodman PLC to local firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, William P. Scarbrough’s 30 years of law firm administrative experience can only benefit Varnum LLP as he moves into the firm’s executive director position.

Despite working as Chief Information Officer for the world’s highest-billing law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, and as a Chief Operating Officer for the New York and Washington offices of the second-largest international law firm by headcount (Baker McKenzie), Scarbrough’s West Michigan roots mean he is already familiar with the local legal scene as well as with Varnum itself.

“Bill brings deep insight into our Michigan as well as the national legal market,” said Varnum Chair Dave Khorey. “His understanding and appreciation of the Varnum culture, combined with his wide-ranging prior experience, make him uniquely qualified to lead our firm’s various strategic projects.”

Those roots also give him a lot of respect for the way the law is conducted in this area.

Speaking of several of the attorney CEOs of Smith Haughey where Scarbrough was Chief Operating Officer, Scarbrough says, “They are all such wonderful people. There are so many in Grand Rapids, so many here at Varnum. It’s a West Michigan thing I think.”

Born in Montague, north of Muskegon, Scarbrough left town to attend the University of Michigan. After getting a BA?in German, he continued in Ann Arbor, receiving two masters: one in political science, and one from the School of Information. “It was a combination of IT and library studies, applied information management. I was one of the very first to graduate from that new school, in 1987, and I started out at Kirkland doing research. It was online mainly, but those were the days of the dial up modem, no web, just a bunch of menus,” he says with a laugh.

After several years in Kirkland’s Chicago office, Scarbrough was offered the opportunity to set up library and information services at the firm’s new Los Angeles office.

“It was a time of major change in law firms’ use of technology,” he says. “I was in that position all the way through Y2K - when everything was sort of crazy for IT?people.”

He next went to the London office of Kirkland & Ellis, moving into general office management.

In the meantime, he had married the woman he originally met in community theater in the White Lake area before college, Kate Kesteloot. Kesteloot Scarbrough is currently the executive director of  the Muskegon non-profit Mediation and Restorative Services, a job he says is similar to his own.

But at the time, in the early 2000s, she moved with him to London, and there received her MBA. The couple decided they wanted to move back to the United States, and Scarbrough became administrator for the Washington office of Baker McKenzie. “Each of their offices had a lot of autonomy, and it was similar to being the executive director,” he said.

Then the couple moved to New York when Scarbrough was asked to help Baker McKenzie finesse incorporating a number of attorneys from the former Coudert Brothers, and he later became administrator of the New York office.  “I did that all the away almost through 2007,” he says, “but by that point we had already bought our house on White Lake. Kate was spending a lot of time here and we were both back and forth, so we decided we really wanted to move here. That’s when I found the role at Smith Haughey.”

Following that, Scarbrough worked briefly in Human Resources for Barnes and Thornburg, but though he loved the firm, he was not enamored of HR work, so he joined Bodman PLC as chief operating officer, working out of Detroit, going immediately from Bodman to Varnum.

Varnum had gone without an executive for some ten years, and Scarbrough says that he believes it was in part because attorneys like Dave Khorey and Tom Kyros did such a good job at running the firm. But as leadership transitions, it seems timely to bring back the position, and Scarbrough could not be happier to be given the opportunity.

 “Another driver is that the firm is also expending in Southeast Michigan, and that will involve expanded office space logistical work that I have a lot of experience doing. The timing was just right,” he adds.

Scarbrough’s responsibilities – everything from overseeing the various administrative officers of the firm to assisting with recruitment – will keep him very busy, but he will continue to serve on the board of Matrix Human Services of Detroit, a Head Start provider, and to co-edit Practice Innovations, a legal trade newsletter published by Thomson Reuters.

Though Scarbrough has remained very interested in the kind of theater which brought him together with his wife, and is active on the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre board and its endowment committee, he says he does not see acting in his future.


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