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While much has been made of the megafirms’ ability to consistently turn a profit, the viability of smaller and midsized firms seems often to be overlooked. The Legal asked a number of upper-midsized and large firm leaders across the state, as well as some legal market analysts, to name smaller Pennsylvania firms they felt were operating on a large scale in terms of revenue, growth and clientele. Their answers ranged from small general practice firms to midsized intellectual property boutiques. Once we narrowed down the list to the most buzzed-about firms, we sought out their leaders in an effort to discover what it is that makes a successful smaller firm tick. One of the things we found is that many small and midsized firm leaders share the opinion that running a successful firm means not spreading its resources too thin. “I don’t think you can be a small firm and be everything to all clients,” said Howard J. Davis, managing partner of 20-attorney Philadelphia commercial law boutique Kleinbard Bell & Brecker. “I don’t think that’s a strategy that has any future.” While Davis said it is the firm’s policy not to disclose financial information, he did acknowledge “good growth” from 2006 to 2007, which he attributes to the health of his firm’s target demographic � middle market clients � in the city and the “brand” his firm has created. “We have a very strong brand as a commercial law boutique, and, in that niche, we provide the same sort of services you would find in a large firm,” he said. “You have to identify what it is you do well and identify the appropriate market for it.” Davis said his firm was looking forward to expansion in the coming year while still maintaining its sovereignty. “We have determined we want to remain independent as a commercial law boutique, and we are very interested in targeted growth,” he said, explaining that the firm plans on focusing more attention on creditors’ rights and commercial litigation in an attempt to remain prosperous in a faltering economy. He said the firm would also be on the lookout for lateral hires in the form of big firm lawyers who have decided small firm life is more suited to them. Paul F. Prestia, chief executive officer of Valley Forge, Pa.-based intellectual property boutique Ratner Prestia, which employs 40 attorneys and three patent agents, said his firm fills a highly specialized niche that requires legal as well as business savvy, all of which paid off in a 16 percent revenue increase from 2006 to 2007. “One of the things that makes us unique is that we do IP,” he said. “That sets us apart from 95 percent of the firms in the world. We have to be fairly deep in legal and technical talent, which means having a full spectrum of attorneys and the resources to go with them. It’s a bit of a challenge, but one in which I think we’ve been successful.” Because it has such a specific focus, Prestia said the best marketing technique for his firm is to maintain a high profile while letting new clients come calling when they are in need of its services. “It’s a lot easier for them to find you than it is for you to find them,” he said, adding that the firm doesn’t bother aggressively trying to break up clients’ happy marriages with other firms. “We try not to waste too much time spreading marketing over the whole terrain. You don’t make much headway trying to move clients who [already] have a satisfactory relationship [with another firm].” Prestia said stand-alone IP boutiques are especially susceptible to both mergers with large general practice firms and predictions of extinction, but said he doesn’t worry about the fate of his firm, calling such distractions a “fact of life.” Rather, Prestia is anticipating continued growth for the firm that will include developing areas like business counseling and litigation, as well as geographical expansion. “We’re putting more emphasis on our Delaware office,” he said, adding that he recently moved his own office there. “We’re looking to develop more Delaware-centric clientele.” Pete A. Fuscaldo, managing partner of 28-lawyer Pittsburgh corporate law practice Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl, said his firm focuses its attention on quality to make up for its lack of quantity, attempting to draw in clients by hiring top talent. “What I’ve come to believe is that if you’re a smaller firm and you want to attract middle-market clients that still have a need for sophisticated legal services, but not necessarily the need for a megafirm, and aren’t quite willing to pay the rates that they are charging, you really have to have sophisticated capabilities and expertise,” he said, adding that exceptional service and competitive rates are also a must. Fuscaldo, who reported “double-digit growth” for the firm last year, said Leech Tishman actively markets itself to potential clients through what he described as a “face time initiative,” in which attorneys from the firm spend personal time with potential clients, attempting to convince them of the benefits of working with the firm. “We’ve focused in the last three or four years on making sure our capabilities are strong, and we’re not just focused on price or service but on exceptional capabilities,” he said. “Once you’re able to attract talent to your firm, you’re able to attract clients.” William E. Lestitian, who oversees 30 attorneys as CEO of general practice firm Rothman Gordon in Pittsburgh, shared many of Fuscaldo’s sentiments about what it takes to succeed as a smaller firm. “First of all, you need excellent lawyers,” he said. “Secondly, we’re very competitive with the big firms in terms of our rate structure.” Lestitian said the 54-year-old firm developed its first comprehensive marketing plan four years ago, working to raise its profile in the western part of the state through advertisements and sponsored events. In addition, the firm took traditional marketing a step further by allocating a personal marketing budget to each lawyer in the firm. “Every lawyer, including all of our associates, is required to develop a personal marketing plan, which we then evaluate,” he said. Lestitian was reluctant to give revenue numbers but said the firm had “two excellent years” in 2006 and 2007, and is continuing its ongoing quest for expansion in the upcoming year. “We’re always looking for the opportunity to grow the firm through acquisition of practices,” he said. Philadelphia-based Kline & Specter houses only 31 attorneys, but is one of the largest and arguably most successful plaintiffs firms in the state, focusing primarily on death and catastrophic injury cases. “I would like to think that we’re at an advantage in terms of our strength, which in a plaintiffs personal injury firm means financial strength as well as depth of talent and the ability to staff and fund major cases,” said name partner Thomas R. Kline. Kline said his firm provides its lawyers the unique experience of doing large firm business in a small firm atmosphere. “Our size is a benefit, not a detriment,” he said. “You can still maintain an intimate atmosphere and the needed collegiality of a practice where lawyers see and know and talk to each other every day with the advantage of being able to work in teams of lawyers with resources, both human and financial, that can be brought to bear on every case in which we represent an injured person.” Kline, who opted not to provide revenue figures for 2007, said the firm is committed to hiring two more lawyers this year. While many small and midsized firms are able to attract new hires and new clients, size can sometimes be a drawback. “There is the image or the perception that you don’t have the resources to handle major matters in major cases that is sometimes difficult to overcome,” said Prestia. Fuscaldo agreed but added that larger firms do have some advantages. “Larger firms still enjoy a pool of talent that allows them to attract a larger client,” he said. Lestitian said he sometimes wished the firm had some of the practice areas in which it frequently is forced to outsource work to other firms. “More depth would be helpful,” he said. “But to be honest, I started out at a larger firm and I don’t really think we have a disadvantage. A lot of our client base is the same as you would have at a larger firm, and they’re getting the same service for lower rates.” Davis said his firm’s primary problem is not being able to tend to the needs of growing clients that begin to seek services outside the firm’s expertise, an issue the firm attempts to solve by outsourcing work to other specialty firms. Though he acknowledges this as a real dilemma, he said he feels the “sophisticated consumer of legal services” has evolved past the bias that small and midsized firms can’t handle major cases and is now more willing to “hire lawyers rather than law firms.” “We do have a number of publicly traded clients for whom we do discrete projects,” he said. “From the sophisticated consumer’s perspective, it’s not an issue.” From a hiring standpoint, however, Davis said attorneys’ perceptions of firms are based more on experience. “It’s possible there are lawyers who haven’t dealt with sophisticated small firms and feel like large firms are where they want to be,” he said. “But most have dealt with good and bad at both large and small firms, so they don’t have the perspective of ‘big is good and small is bad.’” In fact, he said, all of Kleinbard Bell’s partners left larger firms to enjoy some of the freedoms of a smaller practice. According to Davis, these freedoms include greater ability to control quality within practice areas and the ability to be more entrepreneurial, citing his firm’s decision to start a gaming practice two years ago as an example.

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