Proud History, Vibrant Future
Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP is poised to embrace its future
by Sharen Nocella and Beth Dainoff

When Mathieu J. Shapiro was growing up in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, he probably didn’t realize the indelible impact his neighbor would have on his life. Shapiro first met his future mentor, Thomas A. Leonard, when both his family and the Leonard family moved into the neighboring homes that Shapiro’s father designed. More than three decades later, Shapiro would join his longtime mentor in managing Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP, one of the Philadelphia’s oldest and largest full-service law firms, with more than 100 attorneys and eight offices located throughout the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Shapiro has big shoes to fill, as he will be taking over the position of managing partner from Robert I. Whitelaw, who has held the title for the past 30 years. During his tenure, Whitelaw also maintained a thriving family law practice of his own. “Most managing partners only have the position for six to eight years; it will be 30 years for me when I’m finished,” Whitelaw says. Earlier this year, Whitelaw announced that, at the end of 2015, he would be stepping aside as managing partner. “I am not retiring,” quips Whitelaw. “I am merely stepping down as managing partner.”

Though Whitelaw will be handing over the reins as managing partner, he will continue to practice family law full time and will remain on the firm’s Management and Lateral Hiring committees. He also co-chairs the firm’s Litigation Department. “My stepping down as managing partner is actually part of the firm’s strategic plan,” he says. “A few years ago, we began including some younger partners on the firm’s Management Committee to begin the transition.”

Shapiro was elected to the firm’s Management Committee by his partners, and was elected managing partner by the rest of Management Committee. He will officially take over the duties of managing partner January 1, 2016. “Bob has been a terrific role model and is leaving an impressive legacy behind,” Shapiro says. In addition to keeping Obermayer profitable during his tenure as managing partner, Whitelaw is most proud of keeping the firm’s culture intact.

“I am pleased I kept the firm healthy and my partners happy,” Whitelaw explains. “It was really important for me to keep the firm’s collegial atmosphere. We have talented, hard-working lawyers who are approachable, down-to-earth people, who enjoy working with each other. That has remained unchanged since our firm’s inception.”

Another constant in Obermayer’s history has been the steadfast leadership of Leonard. Leonard has been on the Management Committee and has been the chair of the Litigation Department since his arrival at the firm in 1991. He has been the chairman of the firm for nearly five years. Now, along with Shapiro, he will continue to head the firm’s Management Committee. “I’ve worked with Mathieu for almost 20 years and am excited to see him assume this new role,” says Leonard. “He is a forward thinker, and that will serve the firm well as he steps forward to lead.”

Shapiro was part of Obermayer’s summer program. After graduating law school in 1995, he became an associate in the firm’s Litigation Department. He worked closely with partner Paul S. Diamond (now a U.S. District Judge in Philadelphia) and Leonard. Shapiro attributes many of his lawyering skills to what he learned from Diamond and Leonard. “I learned from Judge Diamond and Tom how to analyze issues in a case, how to the see the root of the problem and how to devise an effective strategy to resolve the problem. Those skills have proven to be invaluable in my career. I hope they will be equally valuable when I face the inevitable issues in managing a large firm,” says Shapiro, who currently serves on the firm’s Management Committee, chairs the firm’s E-Discovery Practice Group and is a member of the Recruiting Committee.

Anyone who knows Shapiro would describe him as fair, level headed and well respected, not to mention an excellent attorney. They also would describe him as devoted to his family. Shapiro has worked hard to balance his career with his family life. Shapiro, who lives in Mount Airy with his wife and two children, makes no apologies for his choices. “It was always important to balance my career with my family,” he says. “I like being home to hear about my kids’ days, and to help them do homework—even if it means I have to work late at home, after they’re in bed.”

It should come as no surprise that maintaining a work-life balance is another important part of Obermayer’s culture. Maintaining Obermayer’s collegial culture and entrepreneurial spirit is as important to Shapiro as it was to Whitelaw. Shapiro also plans to continue enacting the firm’s strategic plan to build and strengthen Obermayer’s market position. One of the first major projects Shapiro will oversee is the firm’s move from its current offices in Suburban Station to a new office at the Centre Square building at 15th and Market streets in March 2016. He will also lead the charge on improving technological efficiencies, fortifying Obermayer’s existing branch offices and growing the firm through the acquisition of new lateral partners and small law firms.

“We are poised for growth,” says Leonard. “Mathieu will continue Bob’s legacy by always strengthening and improving our infrastructure and balance sheet.”

“I look forward to transitioning the role of managing partner to Mathieu, who is already a leader among his partners,” Whitelaw says. “He understands the business side of our firm, and will work diligently on behalf of our partners, associates and professional staff to see Obermayer succeed in its future endeavors. I am proud to be part of the firm’s history but I am even more excited about its future.”

For more information about Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP locations throughout the area visit

Photograph by Jeff Anderson