Midsize and mighty. Oh, and venerable. All of the above apply to Davis & Gilbert, which opened in 1906. The firm’s 114 lawyers specialize in the law attending marketing and advertising for clients including Apple Inc., Discover Financial Services and Nissan North America.
Davis & Gilbert operates from a single office in New York and seeks attorneys willing to commit for the long term and evolve alongside the world of marketing. “There’s rarely a case where, if I’m not well versed in an issue, I can’t just go across the hall or downstairs and find someone who is,” said Marc Rachman, a partner in the intellectual property litigation group. “There’s probably not something we haven’t worked on related to advertising and marketing.”
The firm really did get into the business on the ground floor. It oversaw the incorporation of major advertising agencies, including the late Benton & Bowles, and helped put the first soap operas on the air during the 1930s. It helped Crest obtain the American Dental Association’s endorsement.
Davis & Gilbert keeps up with the trends by creating its own experts, who learn and refine new skills to stay abreast of emerging issues. “We dominate a sector that has ultimately changed dramatically,” said chairman Ronald Urbach. “When you do oil and gas exploration, that’s all it is. But for us, we change alongside the industry. The specialty knowledge market is the real sweet spot.”
Growth is orderly. Davis & Gilbert tends to hire laterals with a year or two under their belts at Wall Street firms, generally three to five of them each year, according to Urbach. “For us, growth is profit growth, revenue growth. It’s not growth for growth’s sake,” he said. “It’s really a different business model.”
Unlike, say, Dewey & LeBoeuf, which has lost dozens of partners since the beginning of 2012, Davis & Gilbert considers growth for its own sake “a flawed business strategy,” Urbach said. “If they stop [growing], they collapse.”
That doesn’t mean abandoning the cutting edge. Urbach led the team that prepped the Chevrolet Volt for its market rollout in 2011. That entailed drafting and substantiating product claims for the innovative car, developing the advertising and helping to prepare dealership brochures and Web pages.
Emerging as a focus of interest is the application of business-method patents to marketing techniques “that in the past no one would have expected or thought would have been patentable,” Rachman said. That the law is unsettled is reflected in his representation of Vevo LLC, a video Web site featuring short videos and still-picture advertisements to help support the site’s content. A company called Soundview Industries LLC claimed a patent on that process and filed suit against Vevo and a number of competitors, including AMC Entertainment Inc. Rachman settled pre-emptively on Vevo’s behalf to avoid heavy trial costs.
Technology-sector business patents are “something I think the industry is very concerned about and trying to figure out how to deal with, because it’s coming up across the board,” he said.
Neal Klausner, also a partner in the intellectual property litigation group, recently fought what he called a “classic David versus Goliath matter” involving beverage packaging. The client, Arizona-based Ecosentials LLC, was sued for trademark infringement over its packaging scheme for a new product, Vitamin Squeeze. Energy Brands Inc., a Coca-Cola Co. subsidiary, cited the use of black-on-white labels and a particular font.
Figuring that discretion was the better part of valor, Klausner said he immediately sought to settle the case. As an emerging company, Ecosentials was still working with distributors to find shelf space for Vitamin Squeeze, and any delay might have been crippling. “If they were not able to market the product then, they would have had to wait at least a year until they could,” Klausner said. “We immediately shifted into a gear of, ‘How can we resolve this speedily so our client can get this on the shelves?’ ”
Competition for clients is of little worry to Urbach. “A number of firms profess to have a level of advertising expertise, but that typically involves a couple of things,” he said. Most important among those is a tendency for firms to specialize in either the regulatory or litigation side of the business. For Urbach, this leaves little alternative for marketers seeking serious legal advice.
Hence his firm’s all-inclusive approach. “The way we think, any way you slice it, it’s kind of us,” he said.
Rob Stigile can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.