10 Questions with Peter Michaud

1. On January 1, 2024, you became Chair of Ballard Spahr. What are your primary responsibilities as Chair, and what do you hope to accomplish in the role? 

PM: As Chair, I will guide the strategic direction of the firm, oversee growth and client development, and lead the firm’s Executive Committee. I will ensure that the firm attracts and develops top talent, provides the highest level of client service and matter management, and runs efficiently as a business. 

It is very important to me that we provide innovative legal solutions that address our clients’ current and emerging needs. One of my early-tenure priorities will be growth. We are operating at an extremely high level—helping clients solve complex challenges, exceed business goals, and navigate a thorny regulatory environment. We approach issues from an industry perspective, and there are a number of areas where client need dictates growth. High-stakes litigation. Middle-market M&A. Life Sciences. Finance and financial services. Among some others. We’re not looking at specific geographic markets as much as we’re looking for the right practice mix.  

2. Can you share a bit about your background and what led you to become an attorney?  

I don’t recall exactly when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, but I do remember why I chose this profession. Good lawyers are strong advocates and wise counselors. They’re in the mix of things rather than on the sidelines and step in when support is needed. That’s what I liked—the feeling that I am helping and fixing things, using my knowledge and skill to improve a situation. I am a problem-solver by nature; I enjoy grappling with a problem and finding the right solution, especially when the issue is particularly challenging. That’s something I did everyday as an M&A lawyer and something I enjoy as Chair of the firm.  

3. Can you share a memorable or challenging experience from your legal career that has shaped your approach to leadership? 

I am not sure if there is any one experience that contributed to this but I believe that a successful leader needs to be empathetic. We all have many demands on our life and we come to work with a wide variety of backgrounds. It is important for a leader to recognize these differences and to understand that taking care of the people for whom you are responsible is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of job. Sometimes a person just needs someone to listen to them, sometimes a person needs a dose of tough love. A good leader will recognize these differences and adjust their response and support accordingly.  

4. You will be the first openly gay Chair at Ballard Spahr. What does this milestone mean to you? In what ways has your identity influenced your perspective on law firm culture and the practice of law? 

Early in my career, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my sexual orientation outwardly. At that time, I didn’t think it was something I could reveal to the legal industry or the wider community as a whole. I didn’t think the world welcomed that, and I was far more interested in being known for the quality of my work than any personal characteristic, which I think is true of most people. Working in an inclusive environment allows all of our attorneys and professional staff to bring their whole selves to the workplace. This is exciting. When my role as Chair was announced, many younger people in our communities told me it was inspiring for them to see a person from a diverse community in a leadership role.  

It is very important to me that Ballard be a part of that continued change—and I do mean “continued,” because the work is far from over. Ballard is a place where people can feel truly comfortable being themselves in the workplace. We recognize that contributions from people of different backgrounds and perspectives make us better as a law firm. I want to continue building a culture where all people are welcomed and their contributions recognized. 

5. You’ve been recognized for your pro bono work. How do you plan to build on the Ballard Spahr's commitment to pro bono? 

Pro bono service has been a hallmark of Ballard Spahr for as long as I’ve been here. In 2023, the firm contributed more than 54,000 pro bono hours to clients in need of legal services. It’s my responsibility now to continue building that firmwide support of pro bono work. One way to do that is by setting a strong example and continuing to do pro bono work myself. For example, I am working with a woman from a Latin American country who had been physically and sexually abused seek asylum in the United States. By continuing to do pro bono work myself, I communicate through actions, rather than just words, that it’s a value of the firm and inspire other attorneys here to continue to represent those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to legal counsel. 

6. Are there specific steps you plan to take to support the development of early-career attorneys at the firm? 

We have a robust Attorney Career Advancement team that takes a multi-faceted approach to career development, from trainings on specific aspects of legal work to formal mentorship programs. One thing that’s very clear to me is that the legal industry is going to change. Generative AI, for example, is going to reshape how we do our work. Developing a strong pipeline of homegrown talent is a task where we will never say to ourselves, “We’re done. We’ve found the formula.” We’re going to continue to listen, both to clients and earlier-career attorneys, when they tell us what they need and then find smart, effective ways to deliver that. 

7. As someone committed to diversity and inclusion, what steps do you think the legal profession needs to take to continue building a more inclusive environment? 

Inclusion is key to work satisfaction, and opportunity is key to inclusion. I firmly believe that a law firm must ensure that all lawyers, including lawyers from diverse backgrounds, have exposure to and opportunities to work with clients on matters that are complex and career-defining. Knowing you are a valued member of the legal team creates an atmosphere of contentment at the firm. We need to ensure that all attorneys are learning, growing, and developing in a substantive way particularly while developing the experience that their specific legal area demands. Those opportunities position our lawyers to be indispensable to clients. Once an indispensable part of a client team, an attorney can then be in line for relationship partner succession planning and leadership roles within the firm.  

8. How have specific mentors or role models impacted your career? 

I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by many people in my life who provided advice and support which has been critical to my development. Within my law firm, I was lucky enough to work with a partner who did not just give me work, but taught me how to be a critical thinker, a zealous advocate for my clients, and a savvy negotiator. These are all skills that can be taught in law school but can only be truly mastered out in the field, working with clients on a daily basis. Equally important for my success has been the steadfast and undying support I received from my husband, my parents, my aunts and uncles, and other family members who helped me to complete school and face the demands of a law firm career. A career in the legal industry is demanding and having a support structure both within the firm and in our personal lives is key to success, contentment, and happiness. 

9. Maintaining a work-life balance can be challenging in the legal profession. How do you manage the demands of your career with personal and family life? 

What I’ve found is that prioritizing really helps. Whether it’s looking at an individual day, a month, or even a year, identifying the top priorities and what needs to be done to meet them helps me create a to-do list. Law is an extremely demanding profession, and there are going to be times when work-life balance becomes a little off-kilter. I think it’s important—personally and for Ballard as a firm—to create a structure that enables work to be managed in a way that allows time to rest, reset, and recharge. If you are going to cultivate top talent, a law firm needs to understand that people are not machines, and that creativity, and creative solutions, come more easily when people are happy and nourished. Effective matter management and staffing is key to that. Work-life balance is partially about personal choices and partially about effective and efficient business structure.  

10. If you could instantly master any skill that has nothing to do with law, what would it be? 

I am allegedly proficient in French but learning languages has always been a struggle for me. I would love to know multiple languages, particularly Spanish and Italian. 
Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter