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The firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser has something unique going in Western Massachusetts, and that’s just the way they’d like to keep it. Even with some 400 lawyers readily at their disposal, the firm, with offices in Springfield and Worcester, readily boasts that it is 100 percent “boutique.” With a focus solely on labor and employment law, Skoler Abbott is one of 25 small firms across the country belonging to the Worklaw Network — a core of experienced attorneys dedicated to practicing only employment and labor law. “It’s the only boutique network in the country,” Skoler Abbott name partner Ralph F. Abbott Jr. said. “One that is more of a working network.” According to Abbott, the network consists of firms from as close as New York City and Baltimore to as far away as Seattle and Honolulu, all of which have no more than 35 lawyers employed. The mission of the network, Abbott said, is to keep smaller firms in business through an alliance that allows the firms to share information and refer clients, while remaining independent and unexposed to the malpractice liability of the firms to which they’ve referred clients. Through networking, the smaller firms are able to meet client demand and keep the cost of their services down. When firms in the network do referral business, they do so eagerly, often opting to invite members of the network to use local office space so they can service clients in different locations. All of the firms also operate a website to promote Worklaw at www.worklaw.com, a $150-a-month cost that is shared among the firms. In addition, the firms share an employment law database where attorneys can reference redacted legal research opinions and collective bargaining agreements from their individual computers. Abbott said the attorneys also email and telephone each other frequently to answer complicated legal questions or to find out about certain judges or arbitrators in a given area. “We had one call from Chicago already this week, where one of many union employees engaged in a contract dispute was picketing and carrying one sign that was untruthful,” Abbott said. “They wanted to know if anyone had ever had any experience with that before.” Abbott said one of the major benefits of belonging to a network such as Worklaw is being able to keep research and other costs down for clients. “It is cheaper for the client because we are able to access information quickly,” Abbott said. “And it’s information that seven or eight lawyers in Springfield would not normally have.” The attorneys in the network also hold two meetings a year, one in the spring — this year in Louisville, Ky. — and another in the fall — this time in Seattle, when all of the firms travel to a host firm, according to Jay Presser, also a name partner with Skoler Abbott. “It’s nice to have face-to-face contact with the people you have spoken to so many times over the phone or [Internet],” Presser said. Firms that become members of the network pay around $3,000 annually in membership dues for administrative purposes, Abbott said, adding that interested firms must request to become members, in a somewhat stringent application process. “We have turned down some firms before,” Abbott said of the network adhering to a policy of not accepting firms if their attorneys practice in any area other than labor and employment. “It’s one side of the street,” Abbott said. “That is what makes us unique.” Some of the credentials in being able to join Worklaw, which was formed in 1989 by Skoler Abbott in conjunction with firms in Memphis and Atlanta, include having at least one attorney from every firm that has served as an editor on a law journal or law review. Other firm requirements include engaging in ongoing management training; having published articles in labor and employment law; maintaining an AV rating in the field; and having membership in labor management organizations — to name only a few. “It’s keeping your integrity as a boutique firm in light of a growing legal market,” Presser said. Abbott said that currently all of the network’s member firms are spread out across the country in order to avoid “tripping over each other’s feet.” “While we are competitors, we are not direct competitors,” Abbott said of Worklaw. “It’s all being done on a gentleman’s handshake. No one is going out and trying to [recruit] the other firms’ clients.” He added that the network was now looking to find firms in Phoenix and Salt Lake City that may be interested in joining Worklaw. “We can’t seem to find a boutique firm in Phoenix,” Abbott said, also a chairman of Worklaw’s New Member Committee said. Although Skoler Abbott, whose attorneys are all licensed in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, is currently the only New England firm to join the Worklaw Network, Abbott said the possibility also exists for another firm in the region to come on board “There is nobody in the [network] that I wouldn’t want in my own firm,” Abbott said.

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