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VOL. 124 | NO. 148 | Thursday, July 30, 2009

Law Firm Alliances on the Rise

By Rebekah Hearn

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Law firms locally and nationally are more frequently forming partnerships with other firms or joining networks to help better serve their clients and use every attorney’s base of knowledge to improve overall performance.

Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC, a law firm with a Memphis office as well as offices in Jackson, Miss., Gulfport, Miss., and Bethlehem, Pa., has a partnership with Nashville-based Waddey & Patterson PC. W&P is a boutique firm specializing in intellectual property with a focus on patents, and Butler Snow is a full-service law firm.

Randall Noel, the chair of the litigation department and the commercial litigation group at the Memphis office of Butler Snow, said “it’s all about client service.”

“They have clients who we can better serve because of who we are, and vice versa,” Noel said. “We are sharing expertise to serve one another’s clients.”

Partnering one-on-one

Lucian Wayne Beavers, a shareholder at W&P, said Butler Snow’s expertise in certain areas makes it a good working partner.

“Butler Snow has great depth in commercial litigation in general, and they have a large clientele, many of which need patent work,” Beavers said.

The two firms often collaborate on a case – sometimes simply on a consulting basis, although there are times both firms represent the client in court. Noel cited a case involving Memphis-based biotech company Luminetx Corp. as an example.

“(It) is a larger patent litigation matter, and their … senior patent lawyer is sort of leading the team, if you will, which is staffed by a number of lawyers in our firm. And the client came from our firm; we enlisted (W&P) to help us in the litigation.

“In this (Luminetx) case, they certainly did become an attorney of record.”

But Noel said many times, the two firms simply work together as consultants – always with the client’s knowledge.

Noel said Butler Snow has about three patent attorneys. Since the firm has a client base arising from that, they can contact an attorney at W&P for help on patent particulars.

In return, W&P can contact Butler Snow about litigation or other matters that may come up in an IP or patent case.

“We are full-service … with lots of practice areas that run the whole spectrum of the industry,” Noel said. “We have lots of lawyers of all shapes and sizes. So we can offer them depth.”

The two firms have been working together for several years, said Noel, although the partnership was more or less formalized earlier this year.

“We didn’t see any need to stand in ceremony to promulgate a bunch of rules and regulations, but there are some governing principles,” he said. “We do have meetings with some regularity. And we have sort of a point person on both sides. I’m one of the point people on our side, and Jack Waddey is one on their side.”

The two firms have partnered to put on seminars, and they exchange each other’s newsletters to keep abreast of each other’s work and potential needs.

“We do not solicit or poach one another’s clients,” Noel said. “We’re trying to refer clients or prospective clients when it’s in the client’s best interest, and we wouldn’t do it to serve either firm. So it really needs to work for the client. That’s the basis of the thing, is client service.”

Putting out the feelers

Other law firms have similar alliances and many are also members of official legal networks.

Burch Porter & Johnson PLLC is the Memphis member of ALFA International, a law firm network for which just one firm is chosen in a particular market or state. (See the July 2 issue of The Daily News at www.memphisdailynews.com for more on this topic.)

Bass Berry & Sims PLC is a founding member and the Tennessee representative for Lex Mundi, a legal association of 162 member firms and 17,000 lawyers, and State Capital Group.

Bass Berry also is a member of The Southern Law Network and The Network of Trial Law Firms, a nonprofit organization of 24 independent trial firms.

Belonging to legal networks, especially international ones, offers smaller or local firms greater capacity to help with matters that cross borders.

“Being a member of such internationally recognized networks gives our firm the opportunity to provide an extremely valuable service to our clients,” said John Stemmler, managing partner of Bass Berry’s Memphis office. “Should they have work in other jurisdictions in which we are unable to assist them, we can refer them to a law firm that we know well, one that knows the local law, the customs, the mores and the politics, and is not just merely a satellite office of a mega firm.”

Butler Snow also is a member of Lex Mundi, which Noel called “an example at the other end of the spectrum.”

The firm also is a member of The Harmonie Group, a national network of law firms that, like the others, has stringent policies for membership.

“There are lots of law firm alliances out there,” Noel said. “But they have to make sense. They have all different sorts of purposes. You might be a small firm that works only in Memphis, and maybe you frequently have a client who needs work in Milwaukee, Wis. If you’re in an alliance or a number of alliances, you may have a number of firms with whom you have worked firsthand, and you can attest to their credibility.”

Noel emphasized the underpinning of Butler Snow’s alliance with W&P is the firm’s commitment to excellence.

“That just goes without saying. We wouldn’t be in an alliance with someone we didn’t have full confidence in their ability and their integrity. So it’s a match,” Noel said.

Beavers said Butler Snow is well-respected and established in Memphis, which helps W&P gain a stronger Memphis presence. Noel said while that is true, he emphasized their partnership is not as much for their own benefit as for their clients.

“It’s all about client service,” Noel said. “These alliances are out there, but they’re under radar. We don’t advertise this. We don’t put it on our Web site, ‘Hire us because we know Jack Waddey’s firm.’”

Beavers emphasized this is “not a trial balloon for a merger.”

Noel said neither firm is looking to change their independence “at this point.”

“It’s just a nice relationship,” he said.

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