VOL. 124 | NO. 183 | Thursday, September 17, 2009
FOCUS Law & The Courts
Attorney Sees Opportunities Ahead For New Practice
By Rebekah Hearn
HARD AT WORK: From left, attorneys Brain Yoakum and Stephen Biller and paralegal Jean Bouck share a laugh in their new conference room at The Biller Law Firm. -- PHOTO BY REBEKAH HEARN
Stephen H. Biller took the risk in a down economy of going off on his own and forming The Biller Law Firm – a risk that appears to have paid off as he has hired a new attorney and other staff members since opening June 1.
Biller, who previously served as of counsel at Luckett Pinstein Ridder PC, formed his own firm earlier this year after Luckett Pinstein’s dissolution. Firm partner Lorrie Ridder left in June to fill the Shelby County Circuit Court vacancy left by Rita Stotts’ death in January, and Bill Luckett is focusing on his bid for Mississippi governor.
“The time just seemed to be right for me to just do my own thing,” said Biller, who practices mostly in labor and employment law and other business litigation.
Since leasing office space at 6000 Poplar Ave., Biller’s capacity has doubled as he’s hired additional staff and bought more office equipment.
Then, when Biller left Luckett Pinstein as of counsel, Luckett became of counsel to The Biller Law Firm, an arrangement both said is going very well.
Biller said that at Luckett Pinstein, he was essentially his own unit with a paralegal, Jean Bouck, and an assistant, Mandi Buss. Both women followed Biller to his new firm.
“When it appeared it was not practical to stay in the Luckett Pinstein Ridder office space, we found space … and we initially started with two offices. Then we hired Brian Yoakum effective Aug. 1, who also was with Luckett Pinstein Ridder for a short period,” Biller said.
Yoakum, who also practices primarily in labor and employment, was with Luckett Pinstein last spring. Prior to that position, Yoakum worked at the Clarksdale, Miss.-based Luckett Tyner Law Firm PA and another local Memphis firm.
“When I was presented with the opportunity to be personally mentored by an attorney with the reputation and experience of Steve Biller, I knew I immediately had to sign on,” Yoakum said.
Biller said Yoakum is a “bright young fellow, and he’s got a lot of promise.”
When Luckett Pinstein dissolved and Luckett began focusing his work more at the Luckett Tyner firm, he took Biller’s offer to become of counsel to Biller’s own firm.
“(Biller) offered me the position of counsel, which I was happy to take,” said Luckett. “So I’ll still have a ‘home’ in Memphis in the legal practice sense of the word. I’ll have a place where I can work from and do my normal thing.”
Also, since Biller, Yoakum and Luckett worked together so recently, Luckett said some of their previous cases are pending, and his joining as of counsel was a way to keep the “hangers-on” from the Luckett Pinstein practice.
“So I continue to work on those along with (Biller) and (Yoakum),” Luckett said. “It’s a good arrangement.”
“The time just seemed to be right for me to just do my own thing.”
– Stephen H. Biller
Principal, The Biller Law Firm
As a young attorney, Yoakum said he was pleased Biller “had the foresight not only to bring me into the new firm, but to also recruit Luckett.”
“I am now able to assist Bill Luckett in his fast-paced, high-profile litigation practice in cases spanning the entire Southeast as he is cranking up his campaign for Mississippi governor,” Yoakum said. “It was a winning opportunity for the three of us and an incredible chance for me to advance my career.”
Biller grew up in a business-oriented family. His father owned a small grocery store, and he said business always has been in his background.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged he “didn’t realize there was so much involved in opening your own business.”
“(You have) all the responsibilities and having to pay the bills and have a budget and get all the appropriate licenses and equipment … but it’s something I am familiar with, so it hasn’t really been a burden,” Biller said.
Biller said the biggest challenge of starting the firm was establishing an infrastructure, but his new location offered benefits that helped Biller get off the ground. Office Suites Plus, a collection of executive suites, has staff to answer phones, conference rooms, videoconferencing, a telephone system and a copier, among other amenities.
While Biller said he didn’t take advantage of all of Office Suites Plus’ offerings, some of its services have helped.
“Even though I had to do a lot of my own computer things – like my own server – they have the Internet. … I didn’t have to go out and buy a telephone system. That was a big responsibility taken off my shoulders,” Biller said.
He does use his own assistants to answer his phones and is buying more office equipment of his own.
“They greet the people; it’s a very beautiful place,” he said. “Half the second floor here is devoted to these executive suites. That made a big difference.”
Biller and Yoakum said most of their clients have followed them to the new location.
“All those people whom I’ve represented over the years, including my short time at Luckett Pinstein Ridder, have all stayed with me,” Biller said.
Biller also performs arbitrations, although he said his firm has no cases of that nature at the moment. As far as hiring more attorneys goes, Biller said he’s open to the idea, and ideally he would like an attorney who practices in a different area than he or Yoakum.
Continuing business relationships
Biller pointed out the irony of his serving as of counsel to Luckett’s firm prior to forming his own firm, where Luckett is now of counsel.
Luckett said he is focusing his work more in Mississippi now, although being of counsel to The Biller Law Firm helps him keep a Tennessee presence.
But Luckett’s Democratic gubernatorial bid will eventually take up more of his time as Mississippi’s 2012 elections approach.
“It’s shaping up very nicely,” Luckett said of his campaign. “You really have to start planning very early. And so right now, I’m dedicating about one-third of my time to running for governor. The other two-thirds are devoted to my law practice and other business interests.”
Luckett co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale with actor/businessman Morgan Freeman and Memphis businessman Howard Stovall.
After the first of the year, Luckett said he will spend more time on the governor’s race – making appearances, giving speeches, meeting with people privately and publicly, and fundraising.
“I’m getting a very nice reception around the state,” he said. “I’m working hard; it takes a lot of money to run. I’m making (fundraising) calls – something I’m not used to doing.”
As Luckett prepares to hire more staff and open campaign headquarters next year, he said he will have to spend less time practicing law.
“It’ll dwindle down my law practice,” he said. “It hasn’t really affected it a whole lot yet. In the last two months I’ve tried two big jury trials and I’ve got two more coming up in October, so I’m staying very, very busy.”
In the meantime, he said he’s glad to have the opportunity to continue to work with Biller and Yoakum.
“I’ve gotten to know (Biller) over the past couple of years well, and I have a great admiration for his abilities. He’s an excellent lawyer,” Luckett said. “Brian is a very good young lawyer – he’s very bright and very personable. He’s going to do a good job.
“And (Biller) just is a good fit – we shared office space (at Luckett Pinstein) … and that’s how I got to know him.
“(Things have) just turned out really nicely for me, and I hope for them as well,” Luckett said.