Lancaster, Pa.-based Hartman Underhill & Brubaker has named Kim R. Smith its new managing partner.
Smith, who took over the role from partner Mark Stanley on Jan. 1, is the firm’s first female managing partner and one of only a handful of female firm heads in Pennsylvania.
Because the firm does not impose term limits on its managing partners, Smith is only the fifth attorney to serve in that role in Hartman Underhill’s 35-year history.
Smith said the firm has a “rather informal” process in which its management committee votes to elect a new managing partner, typically looking for someone who has held other leadership positions at the firm.
Smith has been a member of the management committee since 2006 and currently chairs the firm’s school and municipal law group, focusing her practice on advising public- and private-sector clients on employment law matters.
Smith said she plans to continue her full-time practice but will, over the next few years, transition her practice head position to another attorney at the firm.
Stanley, meanwhile, told The Legal that he decided to step down as managing partner after being elected associate vice president of the Pennsylvania Builders Association.
“With that and the responsibilities I have with the [Pennsylvania Bar Association], I thought it was time after four years to step aside and allow Kim to take the lead,” Stanley said.
Stanley called his time as managing partner an “extremely positive experience.”
“I thought we did some great things and accomplished a lot internally, in the marketplace and with community involvement,” Stanley said. “I think we’re postured very well both in the county and regionally and that we’ve identified growth areas and practice areas that will lead us into the future. I think Kim’s going to do an excellent job leading us into 2014 and beyond.”
As managing partner, Smith said her role will largely involve spearheading the firm’s growth and client service initiatives.
According to Smith, one of the major focal points for the firm during her tenure will be succession planning.
“We have a group of attorneys here who are all in their later 50s and early 60s so we’re working on a very strategic and thoughtful plan for putting our clients in touch with our younger associates,” Smith said.
Smith added that for a 19-lawyer firm with a strong presence in its local community, maintaining longstanding client relationships, even after the partners who may have initiated those relationships move on, is vital.
“Attorney-client relationships are so grounded in trust,” Smith said. “They’re not something you can just pass off to somebody without a very thoughtful approach. We’re very intentional about exposing our younger lawyers to our clients.”
Smith said she also has a particular interest in addressing the growing competition firms like hers are facing from companies that offer “commodities”—legal documents that clients can obtain on their own without having to go through legal counsel.
According to Smith, in an age when certain documents are readily available online to the general public, firms like Hartman Underhill are having to re-evaluate services they offer to their clients.
Smith said the firm is now considering options such as lowering the price of the services it offers that could be considered “commodity work.”
That way, according to Smith, the firm can focus more on providing the type of legal counsel to its clients that they can’t get from a website.
“We really want to take a solid look at the value we’re offering to the client,” Smith said.
At 19 lawyers, Hartman Underhill is, on a statewide scale, relatively small. However, it is the second-largest Lancaster-based firm behind Barley Snyder, which has more than 60 lawyers, according to the latest edition of The Legal’s sibling publication, PaLaw magazine.
Smith said that while the firm has always wanted and continues to want to stay within a range of about 20 to, at most, 35 lawyers, it has in recent years been more aggressive in its growth efforts.
“We had a transition in the firm a couple years ago,” Smith said. “We lost a couple of attorneys who started their own firm and we had to ask ourselves, ‘Who are we now and who do we want to be?’ Our growth model has changed slightly. We’re hiring at a faster rate than we typically would be if we hadn’t had some of those folks leave.”
The firm, which has long been active in community service and politics in the local Lancaster community, has also expanded the geographic reach of its practice throughout central Pennsylvania in recent years, according to Smith.
For example, Smith said, the firm’s land-use practice now extends into Franklin, York and Perry counties.
“We’ve increased our regional client base and I think, obviously, the Internet has a lot to do with that,” Smith said.
According to Smith, firm management is scheduled to meet Saturday to discuss the firm’s long-range growth strategy.
Smith said the firm, which also has an office in nearby Ephrata, Pa., has no plans to open more locations, but will continue to try to grow its regional presence in the middle of the state.
Still, Smith added, the firm has no desire to sacrifice the quality of its client relationships to do so.
“It’s fascinating to me the way you can expand your geographic reach without ever having to meet the client. It’s something that can be done electronically,” Smith said, explaining that while that can be a positive in some ways, it can also be detrimental to client service.
“We think it’s important to have that face-to-face contact with our clients,” Smith said.