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VOL. 122 | NO. 12 | Thursday, January 18, 2007

Relationships, Client Needs Behind Husch Eppenberger Offshoot

By Amy O. Williams

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Memphis office of Husch & Eppenberger LLC

One Memphis Place 200 Jefferson Ave., Suite 1450

Hale, Dewey & Knight PLLC - Opening Feb. 1

Seventh and eighth floors of 88 Union Ave.

Jennifer Ziegenhorn is not from Memphis, but after more than 13 years practicing law here, says she is beginning to feel very much at home in the Bluff City.

Ziegenhorn moved to Memphis right after graduating from law school at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville in 1993.Ziegenhorn recently was promoted to equity partner of the Memphis office of Husch & Eppenberger LLC. She also will head the firm's commercial litigation and dispute resolution group.

"She has been a very important person in our ability to serve national clients and commercial litigation and bankruptcy matters, including nationwide litigation for General Electric," said Joe Conran, chair of Husch's management committee. Conran works out of the firm's St. Louis office, which is where Husch is based. Husch has more than 300 lawyers in offices in Missouri, Peoria, Ill., and Chattanooga.

An act of change

Earlier this month, Husch announced that its Memphis office - which opened in 1997 - would shift its focus from consumer bankruptcy to commercial litigation and business taxation. The firm's attorneys and support staff - which total about 12 people - will continue to operate out of its offices at 200 Jefferson Ave.

Ziegenhorn said her daily work will not be very different than it was prior to the shift away from consumer bankruptcy.

"Work-wise, I was doing the same thing before that I am going to be doing," she said.

In addition to Ziegenhorn's promotion, Bert Wolf was tapped to lead the corporate tax area.

"We view them both as important future leaders and key players as we move forward," Conran said.

Conran said the firm's restructuring has been in the works since last year, and partially resulted from the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA). The act - which targeted consumer bankruptcies - went into effect in October 2005. The law strengthened safeguards against abusing the bankruptcy system.

For example, the act implemented a test to determine whether individuals should file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, liquidation of assets to repay creditors, or if they should file under Chapter 13, a wage-earner repayment plan that allows a debtor to keep his or her property and pay debts over time, usually in three to five years.

The act significantly reduced the number of consumer bankruptcy filings in 2006, Conran said.

"We had been analyzing this work for some period of time," Conran said. "But the hard focus occurred starting in 2006, and part of that was affected by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act."

Breaking away

Since the firm was established in Memphis, much of its work had been focused on consumer bankruptcies. With the restructuring, Conran said the firm has been able to concentrate more on its larger clients, such as General Electric Capital Corp., GlaxoSmithKline, McDonald's Corp. and Monsanto Co.

"Our view is to be proactive and try to anticipate where our client needs will be and make sure that we have experts that can handle the types of matters that we think will be the focus of our clients," Conran said.

As a result of the restructuring, three former partners at Husch split away from the firm to continue their practice in consumer bankruptcy and litigation. Stephen Hale and Tucker Dewey, who worked in the Memphis firm, along with Holly Knight from Husch's Nashville office, together have formed Hale, Dewey & Knight PLLC. The three previously worked together at Hale, Headrick, Dewey, Wolf, Golwen, Thornton & Chance PLLC prior to that firm's merger with Husch in 2003.

Hale, Dewey & Knight will have about 11 attorneys and about 25 support staff members in its Nashville office and in its Memphis offices on the seventh and eighth floors of 88 Union Ave. That office is expected to open Feb. 1. The firm will occupy about 8,000 square feet on both floors in the former offices of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, which moved to 175 Toyota Plaza.

"We're looking forward to it," Dewey said.

Loss means gain

Because of the BAPCPA, filings were down by about 50 percent for the first part of 2006, Dewey said.

"The number of filings have been increasing by about 5 percent each month since about June 2006," Dewey said. "So they are coming back and we believe that by the June 2007, the rate of bankruptcy filings will be back up to where it was before BAPCPA."

Dewey said he expects the BAPCPA ultimately to have a positive effect on Hale, Dewey & Knight. With interest rates going up and people having trouble with adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), which adapt to the prevailing interest rate, Dewey said that and other factors are leading the attorneys he works with to believe the rate of filings will continue to go up.

"Now is the time to be getting geared up again," Dewey said. "So with Hale, Dewey & Knight, we are starting a new firm in an environment that will be very helpful."

As for Dewey's former colleague, Jennifer Ziegenhorn, she said she is very excited about her promotion and things to come at Husch in 2007.

"We have put together a great group of attorneys that are very conscientious of their clients' needs, they enjoy the work and it's really exciting," she said.

PROPERTY SALES 56 289 2,908
MORTGAGES 55 226 2,009
BUILDING PERMITS 108 1,002 6,703
BANKRUPTCIES 42 248 1,225