Firm bucks rumor of shutdown

It’s not the first time that Joseph Bourgon, CEO of Southfield-based Sommers Schwartz PC, has heard rumors of his firm shutting down. And again, he says, the rumors are untrue.

“The last time was in 2007 or 2008 when there was an exodus of attorneys from the firm, some by our choice, and some who just decided to go on and do other things,” Bourgon said.

This time, the rumors are centering around a much smaller exodus — three attorneys who are leaving the firm and a couple who are deciding to be of-counsel — and a move sometime later this year. About the latter, Bourgon said that the firm has for a long time occupied the ninth and 10th floors of the 2000 tower of Town Center. And that’s just much more space than the firm needs.

“We’re coming to the end of a 10-year lease, and saw this as an opportunity to look at what kind of firm we are, what kind of firm we want to be, and get right-sized,” Bourgon said.

Senior Shareholder Richard Groffsky said that the new space will still be in Southfield (possibly in Town Center, though the firm has not yet made a final decision). At the beginning of the firm’s 10-year lease, the firm employed 80 attorneys, Groffsky said. And every lawyer had his or her own secretary.

“We haven’t operated that way for a long time,” Groffsky said. Now, the firm has 40 lawyers. He said that the lease ends Dec. 31. Bourgon said the firm will likely have agreements on new space by July 15.

“But any rumor that the firm is dissolving is 100 percent untrue,” Groffsky said.

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Dickinson Wright doubles up with chair election

Are two heads better than one? That’s what one of Michigan’s largest law firms is thinking.

On Tuesday, Dickinson Wright PLLC announced that Edward H. Pappas and James A. Samborn were elected co-chairmen of the firm, succeeding Dennis W. Acher.

Both Pappas and Samborn come to the table with a fairly recent canon of leadership — the former was the 2008-09 president of the State Bar of Michigan, while the latter capped 10 years as Dickinson Wright’s CEO.

We can’t help but notice that both of them specialize in commercial litigation and ADR –meaning that they could, if they wanted to, sue each other over office space, then hire one another as mediators.

Big firms expect to raise rates slightly, but …

An interesting report was recently released by the Altman Weil consulting firm. It surveyed nearly 300 U.S. law firms and found that those firms intend to raise their 2010 rates by an average of more than 3 percent.

“Although these results may seem to contradict some expectations for rate freezes in 2010, this is a relatively conservative rate increase by law firms that are struggling to balance their own business perspective with the needs of their clients.” said Altman Weil principal Tom Clay.  “Most firms are making careful, considered increases – often client by client or lawyer by lawyer – unlike prior years when across the board increases were typical. … Law firms know that this is a buyers market.” 

However, when the managing partners of some of Michigan’s largest law firms were asked about what measures they would be taking in 2010 in terms of raising rates,  none would respond on record.

It’s understandable why they kept mum. No one wants to alert the competition as to what course of action is being taken financially by a firm of 100 or more attorneys. It could lead to something akin to the Wal-Mart v. Amazon price wars of last holiday season — only on a more crucial scale.

Retired circuit judge, lawyers team up to start new law firm

Crain’s Detroit Business is reporting that “Lawrence Charfoos of Detroit-based Charfoos & Christensen P.C. has moved to join retired Wayne County Chief Circuit Judge William Giovan and immigration attorney Robert Birach to open Charfoos, Giovan & Birach L.L.P. in the Penobscot building.”

Law firm’s ice sculpture destroyed

Traverse City artist Steven Berkshire spent a lot of time creating nice-looking ice sculpture, which was commissioned by the local law office of Grand Rapids-based Smith, Haughey, Rice & Rogge.

Meant to be enjoyed by the Traverse City community, the artwork was installed last Friday in front of the firm’s downtown office. It was supposed to last as long as there was freezing weather, but by Sunday afternoon, thanks to a thoughtless vandal, it was turned into a forlorn pile of chunks.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle quotes firm partner Robert Tubbs as saying, “[W]e tried to do something nice for the holidays … obviously it was disappointing someone decided to do that.”

A cold-hearted someone, at that.