ADAMS AND REESE

The shaky economy has inspired 260-attorney Adams and Reese to launch a bank loan program, earning the law firm a spot on the Midsize Hot List. The program brings parties together to spur transactions for its clients and business for itself. The loan program is geared to banking clients that have $2 billion in assets or less. Designed to stimulate loan activity, the program helps unite banks and other financial institutions that want to participate in lending transactions. Here’s how it works: The lead bank posts information on a site hosted by Adams and Reese about the proposed loan, the borrower and the deadline, without revealing the borrower’s identity.

The firm sends out e-mails each day notifying banking clients of new loans posted. Those that want to participate in the deal can contact the lead bank. Once the deadline passes, the lead bank lets Adams and Reese know who it has chosen to participate in the loan. The parties then proceed to Adams and Reese’s virtual deal room, where the lenders have access to the deal’s particulars.

The firm acts as primary legal counsel for transactions initiated through the program, managing the entire review process and loan documentation. The firm says that clients are able to participate in loans from which they might otherwise have been excluded on an individual basis. The firm declined to identify the amount of loan activity the program has generated, citing concerns about competition from other law firms.

Adams and Reese’s largest office is in New Orleans. It has nine other locations: Baton Rouge, La.; Birmingham, Ala.; Houston; Jackson, Miss.; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Mobile, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Washington.

BOWMAN AND BROOKE

Seemingly unfazed by the economic downturn, products liability leader Bowman and Brooke has bolstered its ranks by recently hiring 28 lawyers, promoting seven associates to partner and pumping an additional 50% into its budget for marketing and business development. Moderate partner billing rates, ranging from $250 to $500 an hour, and affordable operating costs have helped the 24-year-old defense firm based in Minneapolis withstand the recession. The 140-attorney firm has focused on its bread-and-butter products liability. Its client base of Fortune 500 companies includes General Motors Corp., Kawasaki Motors Corp., Whirlpool Corp. and Allegiance Healthcare Corp. In a recent win, it successfully defended seat belt titan Takata Corp. against a potential $247 million in claims. Firm veterans litigate as many as four cases per year, and its 90-day early disposition program is a cost-effective means of determining which cases are worthy of settlement and which should go to trial.

The firm’s commitment to diversity helps in recruitment and retention, and makes the firm more responsive to clients needs and jurors’ leanings as well. Last year, 55% of new hires were women or minorities. Some 35% of its lawyers are female, and women or minorities make up more than a quarter of the management committee. Pro bono work and recruiting at minority colleges further reflect a desire for diversity. Bowman and Brooke has other offices in Detroit; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Richmond, Va.; and San Jose, Calif.

BUTLER, SNOW, O’MARA, STEVENS & CANNADA

Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, based in Jackson, Miss., has deployed an economic stimulus team in response to the recession. The 168-attorney law firm now analyzes for its clients the implications of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The law firm also has shored up various practice areas, including bankruptcy, real estate and finance, to help withstand the downturn. A short list of its clients includes AT&T Corp., MGM Mirage, Yamaha Corp. and Johnson & Johnson. The law firm also has offices in Gulfport, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Bethlehem, Pa.

Part of the firm’s strength lies in its use of alternative fees. It offers clients alternative fee arrangements and has its own unique internal fee structure. For example, the firm recently handled all contract matters on a fixed fee for an international client. And for the client’s litigation needs, it charged fixed fees only for certain matters. The firm also uses blended rates, value discounts and flat fees for a given book of business.

Butler Snow’s strong products liability practice recently handled two cases involving Children’s Motrin and Stevens-Johnson syndrome, as well as Vioxx litigation in Alabama and New Jersey. The firm is trying a chemical exposure case affecting 256 individual plaintiffs. Butler Snow has represented clients in more than 20 countries.

In addition, the firm is turning “green.” It emphasizes recycling in each of its four offices and became the first law firm in the Southeastern United States to register for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which promotes construction practices that increase profitability while reducing environmental impact. The office is based in Mississippi’s first LEED-certified high-rise office building. Paperless transactions and electronic workflow processes prevail at the firm, which is a pioneer in the use of electronic legal-document management.

CARLTON FIELDS

Carlton Fields’ strategy for success is to invest time and resources in its talent, an approach that also helped to insulate the Tampa, Fla.-based law firm and its 300 attorneys from the economic slide. Recruiting and retaining top legal candidates and training attorneys at all stages of their careers are priorities. Its rigorous selection process includes interviews designed to predict long-term success, and its summer associate program includes guidance from shareholder and associate attorneys and activities with local legal aid societies. The firm focuses on core skills training and professional growth with input from various development teams.

The firm provides much support for its lawyers in addition to comprehensive training for associates. At the same time, shareholders develop and implement business development plans in tandem with coaches or the firm’s chief marketing officer. The firm says that in two years, shareholders increased their work for clients by more than $4.5 million in revenues. All training is augmented by online instruction.

The law firm also emphasizes the evaluation of attorneys and staff, the dissemination of financial and economic information throughout the firm, and the development of service standards for its clients, which number nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 100 companies. The firm has six offices throughout Florida and one in Atlanta.

FORD & HARRISON

Labor and employment boutique Ford & Harrison has taken giant steps to solve problems historically associated with associate recruitment, retention, development and value. The 200-attorney law firm, with its largest office in Atlanta, has created the “Year One Program” for first-year associates, a 15-month, hands-on training regimen that is comparable to a medical internship. Associates focus on education and practical experience in lieu of simply fulfilling billable-hour requirements. The new attorneys amass clinical hours on depositions, trials, hearings, settlements, arbitrations and collective bargaining sessions. They collaborate with senior partners on major cases.

Firm leaders say that the Year One Program provides a competitive advantage by altering the traditional expectations for new recruits. It counters the threat of associates’ premature departures due to work dissatisfaction, while also responding to clients’ concerns regarding being billed for their work. In short, it establishes a program that fosters client value and internal profit. The strategy is to allow associates to develop their skills at an earlier point in their careers, resulting in savings to the client. Second-year associates also are encouraged to take advantage of the program. Since Year One’s inception, the firm says that it has retained 93% of participating associates, all of whom are on track to make partner. Founded in 1978, Ford & Harrison has 18 offices. Prominent clients include American Airlines, The Home Depot Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

GIBBONS

Newark, N.J.-based Gibbons does smaller deals for big players and big deals for smaller clients. The firm handles complex commercial litigation and major transactions for midmarket companies, which includes those with annual revenues between $100 million and $2.5 billion. The 230-attorney law firm also handles middle-market deals for major companies and is active in the private equity arena. Clients include CIGNA Corp., General Electric Co., JPMorgan Chase Bank and Procter & Gamble Co. During the past five years, Gibbons has opened offices in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. To battle the recession, Gibbons chose to emphasize and build its core strengths, which include commercial litigation, criminal defense, employment law, products liability and real property. It dropped its summer associate program in 2002, and instead invested in lateral attorneys and experienced judicial clerks. During the past five years, it has hired 32 lateral attorneys and eight former judicial clerks. Cost-cutting measures included halving the size of directors’ offices. Consistent mid-Atlantic regional growth has helped the firm avoid layoffs while attaining a profit-per-equity partner average of $707,000.

A lucrative benefits program also helps to attract and retain lawyers. Some of those benefits are family-friendly reduced hours, flexibility to work from home, mortgage and insurance programs and discounts on wellness programs. The firm has sought to foster stable leadership by electing a 36-year-old chairman and managing director, Patrick C. Dunican Jr.

HONIGMAN MILLER SCHWARTZ AND COHN

Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, with 235 attorneys, demonstrates how a midsize law firm remains steady in a turbulent market. The Detroit-based firm focuses on private equity and venture capital, and has continued to focus on its strengths in tax structuring and complex negotiation matters, as well as acquisitions and investments. In addition, it has stayed busy handling matters pertaining to employee benefits, litigation, real estate and labor and employment. The firm has other Michigan offices in Lansing, Bloomfield Hills, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

Recent transactions represent a broad range of industries, including aerospace, medical instruments, agriculture, automotive, paint products and child care services. Deals were widely spread: Australia, the United Kingdom, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and, of course, Michigan. The firm represented North Pointe Holdings Corp. in a merger valued at $146 million, and it achieved the $195 million sale of environmental services firm EQ Holding Corp. Another client is Huron Capital Partners LLC, which the firm represented in nine separate 2008 deals.

The firm has succeeded in keeping its overhead relatively low because it is based solely in Michigan. It is thus able to charge fees that are less than its peers located in locations such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

KEAN MILLER HAWTHORNE D’ARMOND MCCOWAN & JARMAN

Creative compensation and billing arrangements, a commitment to diversity and a culture of stability are hallmarks of Baton Rouge, La.-based Kean Miller Hawthorne D’Armond McCowan & Jarman. The 125-attorney law firm maintains long-term client relationships by using innovative arrangements that include blended hourly rates, fees determined by experience, level monthly billing and tiered volume discounts. Partners own varying percentage interests in the firm, and their compensation is tied to net profit. Recent cases involved biofuel energy sustainability and alleged contamination from crawfish farms.

The firm heads the Louisiana Diversity Forum, with speakers drawn from clients such as Shell Oil Co. and Chevron Corp. It runs the Kean Miller Connection, a law school preparatory program drawing students from traditionally underrepresented groups. Using a “speed dating” format, participants interview experts from various practice areas. The firm was formed in Baton Rouge 25 years ago, and its growth paralleled the expansion of the area’s energy and petrochemicals industry. It maintains a pair of Baton Rouge offices, with others located in New Orleans, Lake Charles and Plaquemine, La.

LEVENFELD PEARLSTEIN

Operating debt-free going into the recession has helped Chicago-based Levenfeld Pearlstein to continue expanding its core practice areas. The 65-attorney firm initiated new service segments, including an employee stock ownership plans practice group. It also beefed up its restructuring and insolvency practice and its construction litigation group. Commercial property deals diminished in 2008, so the firm’s real estate and tax attorneys concentrated instead on transactions involving distressed real estate.

The firm has a spot on the Midsize Hot List, but it has responded to the current cold economic climate with a rate freeze. It sought to offset the hardship that the recession was creating for clients. Locking in billing rates helped the firm increase its market share from its existing clients, and the strategy has generated business from prospective ones as well. Putting into practice its philosophy that a law firm should operate as a business is helping the firm and its clients survive the downturn.

The firm’s environmental consciousness is a money-saver and represents good corporate citizenship. Levenfeld Pearlstein says that it became the first law firm to implement the American Bar Association Model Sustainability Policy. In addition, it is the only firm to participate in Chicago’s Green Business Task Force. It joined the Chicago Climate Exchange and established its own environmental service group.

MCDONOUGH HOLLAND & ALLEN

Health care is one of the largest practice areas of Sacramento, Calif.-based McDonough Holland & Allen, so it is fitting that it was possibly the first midsize law firm with a comprehensive wellness program for attorneys and staff. With 100 attorneys, the firm’s strategy of keeping health care costs under control is an antidote to the sagging economy. Inspired by attorney Marcia Augsburger, the program provides a potent mix of education and exercise that encourages employee health and bolsters firm strength. The fitness initiative has helped McDonough remain competitive by reducing absenteeism and lowering health care costs. Simultaneously, workers’ energy and productivity have risen, attorney retention has improved and staff morale has soared.

Originating with fruit and healthy snack giveaways, the plan now features yoga, Pilates, personal coaching, on-site massages and even kick boxing and Tai Chi. The firm offers $450 as an incentive to participate, and attorneys can satisfy some of their investment-hour requirements by taking advantage of it. Health care-related expenses, including insurance premiums, have dropped by 20% since the program’s inception. Each dollar spent on wellness reaps an estimated $4.50 in return benefits for the firm. The 55-year-old firm maintains a second office in Oakland, Calif.

MCKOOL SMITH

McKool Smith has been able to launch headlong into growth after a series of high profile litigation wins.

Since 2007, the Dallas-based firm has opened offices in New York and Washington and added significant laterals to both. The firm now has more than 100 lawyers spread among five offices.

Managing partner Michael McKool said that growth was driven by a series of big wins. With four of NLJ affiliate Verdict Search’s Top 100 verdicts last year, McKool Smith had more verdicts than any other firm in the country in 2008, including a $250 million win in Medtronic Vascular Inc. v. Boston Scientific Scimed Inc. The firm’s client roster also includes American Airlines, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Halliburton Co.

To give associates courtroom experience, McKool Smith sponsors a pro bono program that allows associates to defend misdemeanor criminal defendants who do not qualify for court-appointed counsel. The firm has expanded its client offerings in the past two years by adding a life sciences litigation and white-collar criminal practice. The firm keeps between $8 million and $10 million on hand at all times, allowing it to invest without having to borrow from a bank. “Right now, with all of the talent out there, you have to capitalize on the opportunity,” McKool said.

MUCH SHELIST DENENBERG AMENT & RUBENSTEIN

When it comes to size, Chicago-based Much Shelist Denenberg Ament & Rubenstein is proud to be middle-of-the-road. In fact, two years ago the 85-lawyer firm launched an advertising campaign to say loud and clear that it had no intention of getting caught up in the merger frenzy going on at the time. Much Shelist’s “Cut Loose” campaign took aim at large, brand-name law firms with lines such as, “Mega law firm mania may be all the rage, but at what cost to clients and the attorneys who serve them?”

Managing partner David Brown said that the aggressive approach was necessary for the firm to raise its profile in Chicago and Irvine, Calif., where it also maintains an office.

“We don’t want to be the Chicago office of fill in the blank,” Brown said. That strategy paid off. During the first year of the firm’s “Cut Loose” campaign, Much Shelist picked up 12 laterals who brought more than 70 new clients to the firm and opened nearly 220 new cases.

To better meet client needs, the firm embeds lawyers at client sites, enters into alternative billing arrangements, and sends out detailed surveys to find out what issues they may be facing. In February, the firm implemented a 10% reduction in all lawyer salaries to further cut back on expenses.

PATTERSON BELKNAP WEBB & TYLER

When the subprime mortgage and credit crises came to a head late last year, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler had a big head start in picking up clients.

In mid-2007, the firm assembled a team of six partners, 10 associates and more recently a senior counsel to help guide clients through the uncertain marketplace. The 190-lawyer firm used the initiative to approach clients in the financial guaranty insurance industry, which Managing partner Robert LoBue said has been hugely successful. The firm represents Ambac Assurance Corp. in a suit against EMC Mortgage Corp. and Syncora Guarantee Inc. in a suit against GreenPoint Mortgage Funding Inc.

From its sole office in New York, Patterson Belknap is also a major player in defending law firms against complex liability claims. In 2008, Patterson Belknap successfully defended Nixon Peabody against allegations that the firm had breached a noncompete agreement and a Bracewell & Giuliani partner against allegations that he had conspired in the theft of a $10 million investment he had been hired to recover. “We take it as a real feather in our cap that that practice is doing well, because law firms are the most sophisticated consumers of legal services,” LoBue said.

Building on the firm’s success this past year, Patterson Belknap is working hard to hire laterals from big law firms and associates coming out of clerkships.

PRYOR CASHMAN

For New York’s Pryor Cashman, the key to success is mixing things up. Managing partner Ronald Shechtman said that no one client makes up more than 4% of the firm’s business and the top 20 list of clients constitutes less than one-third. “It just shows that every client of ours is indispensable,” Shechtman said.

Not having one huge client ensures that every lawyer at the 133-attorney firm has to bring in clients, creating what Shechtman called an “entrepreneurial culture.” He pointed to associate Jonathan Shepard as an example. Last year, Shepard’s representation of distressed debt hedge funds generated more than $2 million in legal fees and added to a 15% increase in revenue. The firm’s entertainment, media and communications practice, which boasts clients such as EMI Group Ltd., Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and New Line Cinema Corp., also helped it achieve its most profitable year ever. The firm has continued to offer clients alternative billing arrangements, including blended rates, contingency agreements and fixed-fee billing.

In addition to bringing on laterals such as a family law partner from now-bankrupt Dreier, Shechtman said, Pryor Cashman is taking advantage of its debt-free status by moving into the Times Square offices previously occupied by now-defunct Heller Ehrman. The firm also keeps an office in Los Angeles.

ROBINS, KAPLAN, MILLER & CIRESI

The most important asset 260-attorney Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi has is its people. That’s why Chairman Martin Lueck said the litigation and business transactions firm places a special focus on making sure first-year associates receive the hands-on training necessary to become successful advocates.

The centerpiece of the Minneapolis-based firm’s education process is a four-phase, multiyear program that trains associates through a series of mock trials and simulated depositions. “When a client gets a younger associate on their file, it is incumbent on the firm to have given the associate the additional education they need to be business-savvy,” Lueck said. The 260-lawyer firm places a premium on diversity when hiring lawyers, especially for leadership positions across its five offices. Women and minority partners hold 41% of Robins Kaplan’s leadership positions. The firm also allows lawyers to adjust their hours, and their pay, to balance external obligations with career demands.

Last year, the firm expanded by adding a nine-lawyer entertainment litigation practice from Dreier. The firm froze billing rates at 2008 levels this year and has worked with clients to arrange alternative billing structures.

STERNE, KESSLER, GOLDSTEIN & FOX

With 90 lawyers and another 30 patent professionals, it would be easy to “overlawyer” the intellectual property issues clients bring to the firm. But that’s not how the Washington-based firm operates. Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox managing partner Michael Ray said the firm prefers to “give clients what they actually need and not what a bunch of lawyers think they need.” The key to keeping blue-chip clients happy, he said, is maintaining constant communication.

If the firm’s portfolio is any judge, Ray might be right. The firm does work for such clients as Google Inc., Apple Inc., American Express Co. and Reebok International Ltd.

Sterne Kessler’s patent re-examination practice has been particularly busy this year, according to Ray, and the firm’s nanotechnology and clean-technology practices have continued to bring in work. He added that the latter two are less sensitive to cost reductions because few firms practice in those areas. It implemented a program in May that allows associates to select their required hours, and proportionate pay, from an adjustable scale. “It takes some of the pressure off the firm,” Ray said.

Sterne Kessler offers a tuition program in which technical specialists, most of whom hold doctorates, can work for the firm to learn how the world of intellectual property law operates and receive financial assistance for law school. “It’s kind of like having our own baseball farm team,” Ray said.

TUCKER ELLIS & WEST
See feature, “Alternative fee arrangements are so 2003

TURNER PADGET GRAHAM & LANEY

Turner Padget Graham & Laney prides itself on its deep ties to the state of South Carolina. With five offices and 90 lawyers across the Palmetto State, Chief Executive Officer Edward Laney IV said the Columbia-based firm has a special understanding of what its clients need to be successful there.

That translates into a commitment to alternative fee arrangements, efficient case management and a wide range of practice areas, Laney said. The firm starts with a “one attorney to one file” approach to cases, adding extra lawyers only when necessary. And with more than 15 years of offering alternative billing, the firm has several proven options in place to offer clients the best deal. Earlier this year, Turner Padget cut its management committee down to four lawyers as part of its effort to make the firm operate as efficiently as possible.

It gives first-year associates hands-on experience in handling cases from their first day. In Turner Padget’s litigation practice, all of the partners and 27 of the firm’s 32 associates have first-chair trial experience. The firm has added a former probate judge to the trusts and estates practice and picked up a new patent agent last year.

WARNER NORCROSS & JUDD

With two of the Big Three car companies in major financial trouble, Michigan’s economy has been sputtering. But that hasn’t stopped Warner Norcross & Judd from having a strong year.

Driven largely by vibrant litigation, labor and employment, and bankruptcy practices, the 213-lawyer firm, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., claimed record profits in 2008 (although it wouldn’t provide numbers). Managing partner Douglas Wagner said that the firm’s flexibility in offering alternative fee arrangements and flat rates has allowed Warner Norcross to go after clients that normally would turn to AmLaw 100 firms. Clients, including Whirlpool Corp. and Bosch Home Appliances Corp., have signed up with the firm in the past couple of years. Wagner added that the firm’s decision not to make a play to represent any of the Big Three was a blessing in disguise.

The firm has maintained its commitment to hire a full 24-associate summer class this year, saying that it makes little sense to pass on top talent just because the economy is down. The firm has continued to invest in hot practice areas such as life sciences and climate change across its six offices in Michigan. “We’re looking at practices that are going to be sustainable year after year. It’s not only smart business, but it keeps morale up at the firm,” Wagner said.

WENDEL, ROSEN, BLACK & DEAN
See feature, “How do you spell ‘green’? Wendel Rosen