2011 ‘Largest Law Firms’ directory message: Proceed with caution

Coming off a painful, economically challenging 2009, there were beacons of hope for many of the state’s largest law firms at the end of 2010.

There were positive shifts in work among once-cool practice sectors, such as real estate transactions, commercial contracts and loan originations. And there weren’t any layoffs or practice group dissolutions.

But several managing partners told Michigan Lawyers Weekly in its 2011 edition of “Michigan’s Largest Law Firms” directory, which publishes June 20, that sitting in the driver’s seat still meant impulsively scanning for potholes.

“[T]he last three years in the U.S. has shown it’s a tricky business,” said Michael W. Hartmann of No. 1-ranked Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. (279 attorneys). “In this world, things change pretty quickly, and you have to adapt pretty quickly.

“Law firms have concluded that; I don’t think you can assume what you did two years ago will work two years from now. Law firms have to adapt like clients do — and clients don’t get [much time] to adapt.”

Among the findings in the directory, which chronicles activity from Jan. 1, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011, among 63 Michigan firms that have 20 or more attorneys:

Alternative billing methods and more-focused client budgets were widespread: As Henry B. Cooney of No. 8-ranked Plunkett Cooney (150 attorneys) explained, “Five, 10 years ago, the idea of having a litigation or transactional budget didn’t exist, at least not very much. It certainly exists today, and we see that quite a bit.”

They also were problematic: “I think most CEOs and general counsel would tell you, people are still trying to figure out alternative fees,” said David Foltyn of No. 2-ranked Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP (228 attorneys). “Clients are still trying to figure out how it works, and lawyers are still far behind in project managing and predictability.”

Lateral recruitment was frequent: And it was advantageous, the principal reason being “you can react to market conditions more quickly,” noted Douglas E. Wagner of No. 3-ranked Warner Norcross & Judd LLP (219 attorneys). “When you’re hiring a law student, you’re projecting out two or three years as to what your needs are going to be, but in a lateral market, you can fill a need within a few months.”

Value still is everything: Coming up with what’s expected from the firm isn’t always what the firm itself expects. Lawrence J. Murphy at No. 7-ranked Varnum LLP (153 attorneys) said one thing that’s been apparent in the past few years “is that clients are increasingly demanding that their law firms provide value as defined by the clients, not as defined by their lawyers.”

Rounding out the 10-largest firms list are Dickinson Wright PLLC (No. 4 with 218 attorneys); Dykema Gossett PLLC (No. 5 with 180); Clark Hill PLC (No. 6 with 166); Butzel Long (No. 9 with 143); and Bodman PLC (No. 10 with 138).

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Attorneys, professors land new jobs

There’s been some recent movement into and out of colleges, courts and the Capitol.

First James B. Thelen has left as principal in Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.’s labor and employment group to become associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel at The Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

He takes over the spot from James Robb, who has been named associate dean for development and alumni relations. (Lawyers Weekly readers will recognize Robb as one of our 2008 In-House Leaders in the Law.)

This isn’t Thelen’s first time in the college arena, having served as assistant general counsel and assistant vice president for legislative affairs at Western Michigan University.

Over at Strobl & Sharp, P.C., Mark Solomon has joined of counsel role in its taxation and estate planning practice areas. He comes to the firm after 30 years of serving as chairman of the taxation and business law department and director of the masters of science taxation program at Walsh College in Troy.

In what could be the last of the Granholm administration landing a job, Steven Liedel, the former governor’s legal counsel, is now at Dykema Gossett PLLC’s regulated industries department. (Ex-Attorney General Mike Cox joined the same firm two months ago.)

And with former partner Kathryn Viviano now on the Macomb County Circuit Court bench, Mount Clemens-based Viviano Law has changed its formal name from Viviano & Viviano, PLLC to Viviano, Pagano & Howlett PLLC.

The name change took place when Jake Howlett, former president of real estate company Crown Enterprises, Inc. and former Bodman PLC business lawyer, was named as partner of the firm.

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