Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why I Moved to Barnes and Thornburg LLP

By John L. Watkins

This week, Tom Chorey, Tom Gallo and I left Chorey, Taylor & Feil, P.C. to join the Atlanta office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Barnes & Thornburg is an Am Law 100 firm with about 540 attorneys with offices in Atlanta, Indianapolis, D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis, Columbus, OH, Wilmington, DE, and other cities.

BT's Atlanta office is quite new. The Managing Partner in Atlanta is Stuart Johnson, a corporate attorney who was formerly a partner at Bryan Cave Powell Goldstein. With our addition, the Atlanta office will have about 20 attorneys in many disciplines.

Many of our friends and colleagues in the legal community will no doubt be surprised by our move to BT. Tom C. and Tom G. undoubtedly have their own reasons, and I will not try to address them, but I can address mine.

After practicing for large law firms (Hansell & Post, then Long Aldridge & Norman/McKenna Long & Aldridge) for over 25 years, I joined the field of "small law" in 2007. I was briefly a shareholder of Wagner, Johnston & Rosenthal, P.C., which is an excellent small firm in Atlanta, and a place where I have many friends. In December 2007, I had the opportunity to join CTF as a shareholder.

CTF truly has exceptional attorneys. Two of these exceptional attorneys are Tom Chorey and Tom Gallo. Tom Chorey is an amazing corporate attorney with tremendous experience, a tremendous work ethic, and incredible compassion for his clients. Tom Gallo is an outstanding litigator, combining great technical skills and experience with common sense. Tom G. is also just an incredibly nice guy.

When it became apparent that CTF, as it had been constituted, was not going to stay together, a priority for me was to keep practicing with Tom C. and Tom G. Although we had a number of excellent alternatives, we chose to come to BT. There are several reasons BT proved very attractive.

First and foremost, BT presents an extremely unique opportunity. I have known about BT for many years, having used the firm as local counsel in a matter a number of years ago. The firm was very impressive in acting as local counsel, and I have always had a great deal of respect for BT as an excellent firm.

In learning more about where BT is today, I became even more impressed. The firm has grown, even through the Great Recession. This appears to be the result of combining great lawyers and great capabilities with a rate structure that conveys value and is consistent with the firm's Midwestern roots.

The firm also has great depth and covers almost every discipline of law. Chorey commented to me the other day, "Do you know the firm has a nanotechnology department?" I replied that I did know that, but that it was very small. Tom did not get the joke right off the bat. Bad joke aside, the fact that the firm covers nanotechnology is extremely relevant, because we have a new client in that industry and having expertise in the area will only help us provide greater value to that client.

The way the firm has gone about building the Atlanta office is also very impressive. The lawyers in the Atlanta office have great resumes and experience. One of the partners the firm just added is Roy Hadley, an excellent corporate attorney who focuses on technology companies, and an old friend and colleague from Long, Aldridge & Norman. The depth and experience of the lawyers in the Atlanta office alone -- which covers some key areas we did not cover at CTF -- should help us serve our clients more efficiently.

Another key factor was that the firm has a nationally recognized insurance recovery practice for business policyholders. BT's insurance coverage practice for policyholders is ranked in the top 10 nationally. A large part of my practice focuses on insurance coverage. Although I have represented insurance companies in the past, my current practice focuses on representing only policyholders. It was thus important for me to find a firm that represented policyholders and not insurers. BT's depth in this area can only help serve business clients with insurance coverage issues.

The final factor, and a very important one, is the ability to focus on practicing law. When I left the large firm world in 2007, the allure of the small firm world was freedom: The ability to practice law the way you want to practice. After over three years in the small firm world, this has proven to be highly overrated, at least for me.

Although the small firm world provides freedom, it also comes with the distractions of trying to run a small business. I will certainly not miss attempting to manage the firm's website, dealing with vendors, trying to do the firm's public relations and marketing with no resources, and the countless other tasks that come with a small law firm. BT has the resources to deal with these issues and to allow me to focus on the two things that I believe are most important: Serving clients and finding new ones.

In December 2009 and January 2010, I wrote An Insider's Guide on Hiring a Business Attorney, a book written for business owners and executives about finding, evaluating, interviewing, hiring, and working with a business attorney. One of the chapters of an Insider's Guide deals with evaluating large firms vs. small and medium-sized firms. I tried to look at the issue objectively, but assumed that, since I had at that time joined the small firm world, I would end up favoring small firms.

That is not how the chapter turned out. In looking at the issue objectively, it was simply undeniable that large firms possess some advantages (generally, excellent attorneys and breadth of coverage). Although excellent small firms also can possess advantages (generally, personal service and a lower rate structure), I concluded that clients generally hire lawyers and not law firms.

In thinking about the large vs. small firm issue, it dawned on me that, if a firm could put together the resources of a large firm with value and personal service, it might be the best of both worlds. In looking at the options, it seemed that BT might just have achieved this happy medium.

It was extremely important for us that BT's rate structure is consistent with the rate structure at CTF. This means that we can continue to serve our clients with all of the resources that BT offers without the need of a large rate increase. I also felt that BT's Midwestern values seem to fit well with our desire to provide our clients with personal service. I grew up mainly in the Midwest, so maybe BT's approach just seemed intuitively right.

There is always a risk in changing firms. In this case, the resources and opportunities offered by BT seem to outweigh the risk of changing. I hope to practice at BT for many years to come.


Unknown said...

John - Thanks for the background on your decision to join BT. I knew a little about the firm because of Stuart Johnson, but your blog was certainly helpful. Best of luck and let's stay in touch. Tony

howi said...

A word from a German lawyer, John. All the best for you at the new firm. I have known BT for many years, and Wayne Kreusche has become a good pal of mine.

Gerhard M. Horstmann-Wilke, HDI-Gerling Industrie AG, Hannover