Josh Gunnemann, left, and Stephen Councill, right, with Councill & Gunnemann in Atlanta.(Courtesy photo) Stephen Councill (left) and Josh Gunnemann of Councill & Gunnemann, Atlanta. (Courtesy photo)

The disruption caused by a global pandemic was just the impetus that two longtime Rogers & Hardin partners needed to start their own law firm.

Stephen Councill and Josh Gunnemann have switched from the defense side to a predominantly plaintiffs practice helping fraud victims. After considering the idea for several years, it took them just two weeks to start their new firm, Councill & Gunnemann, this month.

“It had been a daydream—and COVID-19 was definitely the spark. We were getting contacted by people who needed help, and we decided if we were ever going to do it, then it was time,” Councill said. 

The two are representing investors, other consumers and businesses with claims of fraud and corporate misconduct.

“I can’t think of a time when people need help from qualified and experienced lawyers more than right now,” Gunnemann said, adding that they already signed up two new investor clients last week—their first week in practice after opening their firm May 11.

At Rogers & Hardin, Councill, a former Atlanta branch chief for the Securities and Exchange Commission, advised banks, broker-dealers, investment advisers and others in the financial services industry on regulatory matters. He also represented them before the SEC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and other agencies in investigations and enforcement actions.

Councill, 50, spent almost 17 years at Rogers & Hardin after starting his legal career at the SEC. Gunnemann, 40, spent his first 14 years in practice at Rogers & Hardin, where he handled class action defense and securities litigation, mostly for businesses.

“Now we’re representing investors and businesses who’ve suffered losses from bad actors in the financial services industry,” Councill said, adding that, so far, the two are getting referrals from other lawyers and financial services professionals.

Gunnemann said they may also handle whistleblower claims—for instance over Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Councill and Gunnemann said they are financing their firm with savings and by keeping overhead low. They also are handling a mix of hourly billing and contingency fee work. 

Some cases might use a hybrid billing model, Gunnemann added, where they charge an hourly rate to investigate a matter and then use a contingency fee if there is a viable claim to file. That said, they aim to handle investor-fraud cases on contingency.

After deciding to launch their firm in late April, the two law partners had Councill & Gunnemann up and running with remarkable speed. 

“In some ways it was a really good time to start a firm because there is not an expectation that we have marble-covered offices—and we don’t,” Councill said. “We have very little overhead.” 

The two are working remotely due to the pandemic, but they’ve secured flexible office space with Servcorp, located in Midtown at 12th and Peachtree Streets. “That way we can scale up or down,” Councill explained.

Deciding on office space was a big question for the two law partners. Right now, clients can’t visit, and it’s not clear what will happen with the office space market, so they didn’t want a long-term lease, Councill said. 

But they did want an actual location with reception services. “This is a sophisticated law practice for sophisticated clients. We can’t look like a fly-by-night operation, and we want to provide a seamless, client-first experience,” he said.

Gunnemann handled IT decisions, which included installing equipment for their assistant and sharply upgrading their respective home internet speeds to a powerful 1 gigabyte per second.

“Legal technology has changed dramatically in the last five years, so we can now run a sophisticated law practice in the cloud with a modular system that allows us to add or subtract users really easily,” he said.

To launch their firm so quickly, Councill and Gunnemann said, they crowdsourced advice on office space, infrastructure, legal billing software and insurance from other lawyers who have already started their own shops. 

“The community of people who’ve started firms in the last few years is very helpful about what organizations to join, people to call and tech solutions to put in place,” Gunnemann said.