Street Talk: Law firms in flux


Mergers and acquisitions are persistent big news throughout the business world — and that includes the world of law firms. Literally, the world.

A couple of mergers that have been felt from Texas to Grand Rapids lately are Dykema Gossett's deal with Texas firm Cox Smith to become Dykema Cox Smith (only in Texas, and just Dykema Gossett everywhere else), and the Law Office of Jordan C. Hoyer merging with Talcott Franklin, also out of Texas.

“While Dykema is a Detroit-based firm now with 15 offices, Dykema has a growing presence in Grand Rapids in a branch office led by former U.S. Attorney James Brady, formerly a partner at Miller Johnson,” Nelson Miller told the Business Journal.

Miller is dean of West Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus, and a professor there.

“Another case in point is Jordan (Hoyer), a graduate of WMU-Cooley's Grand Rapids campus,” said Miller.

He mentioned how Hoyer built her small firm into a valuable presence in Grand Rapids with long-time area lawyers Curt Benson and Derek Witte, a firm with enough value that Talcott Franklin wanted to join forces with it.

“These statewide and local examples follow a general pattern of consolidation in the legal profession, now led by the mammoth worldwide firm Dentons, which merged recently with Dacheng in China, and then even more recently with McKenna Long, to give it 6,600 lawyers,” said Miller.

In fact, Dentons is so big it is decentralized and has no official headquarters, according to know-it-all Wikipedia.

“Mergers have long been a part of the legal profession, but their number and size are growing,” said Miller.

So what about all those TV commercials for Sam Bernstein and Geoffrey Fieger and the others, like the class action settlement people looking for more potential clients?

“One other interesting trend that local firms face is the increasing marketing presence of out-of-area firms,” said Miller. “Look at the billboards on the freeways for legal services — Ven Johnson's red boxing gloves as just one example.”

Johnson is from the Detroit area. Much of the big advertising is not for GR area firms.

“Area firms need now to compete with national or statewide law firm brands,” said Miller.

The latest marketing spin is trade names for firms, instead of using two or three last names. One example is Michigan Auto Law — the Gursten law firm, according to Miller — based in southeast Michigan “and moving into new regions.”

Michigan Auto Law “has a Grand Rapids office and significant presence now, whereas a few years ago those kinds of cases would probably have gone to local law firms,” according to Miller.

Sam Bernstein’s firm “has long been an example” of aggressive expansion into new regions. “But now the trend has accelerated,” Miller said. “Even small firms are using trade names to keep a hold in local markets.”

Blackhawks up

Don’t be surprised if you spot up to four Blackhawk helicopters flying overhead later this month — the world is not ending.

The helicopters are part of a “weapons of mass destruction” training exercise being conducted by the Michigan National Guard in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement and disaster recovery agencies June 23-27.

The statewide exercise will include two training venues in the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Members of the Michigan National Guard briefed the Grand Rapids City Commission last week on the exercise — known as Northern Exposure — which will include training sessions at the Butterworth landfill site and at Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood.

The exercise will allow the Michigan National Guard to confirm the state’s level of preparedness for a real emergency, as well as increase interagency understanding. According to the Michigan National Guard, “the exercise will give cooperating agencies the opportunity to work together and practice disaster and recovery systems and operations.”

The Butterworth site will be used for training related to route clearance in a case of vehicles being strewn or abandoned along a roadway as a result of an emergency situation, and the Crestwood School location will be used as a de-contamination site.

The Michigan National Guard does not anticipate the training exercise will impact the city in any major way, saying it does not plan to close any roads, and all of its vehicles will be parked within the boundaries of the venues.

The helicopters, which will be flying on June 24 and 26, will not fly directly over downtown.

Three Muskegon locations will also serve as training venues: Muskegon Water Treatment facility, Webb Chemical and Sun Chemical.

A total of 14 venues across eight Michigan communities will participate.

Up in smoke

Organizers of a marijuana legalization drive in Michigan have withdrawn their petition and plan to submit new language later, according to media reports.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition informed the Board of State Canvassers of the move last week Tuesday. The group had been expected to have the form of its petition approved by the board, according to the Associated Press.

The initiated legislation would require 252,000 valid voter signatures before going to the Republican-led Legislature. If lawmakers rejected the bill or took no action, it would receive a statewide vote in November 2016.

The initiative is being supported by anonymous people from the agricultural, real estate, insurance and education sectors, according to the AP. The group says Michigan could add jobs and tax revenue by legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational purposes.

They must have been confused when writing the ballot language.

Smart move

More than bacon and eggs will be on the menu June 2 when the West Michigan Leadership collaborative hosts a community breakfast.

The organization’s “The High Cost of Disparities” report — 12 months in the making — will be presented at that time. The initiative was funded through a grant furnished by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This report will not only set out what these disparities cost every one of us, but it will also furnish resources to both our public and private sector organizations to help all of us move the ball forward and make our communities the best they can be,” said John Golaszewski, director of Business and Community Affairs at the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Special guest speaker will be Michael Finney, senior adviser for economic growth in Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.

Finney also will introduce multiple community resources that will help many in Grand Rapids who are trying to enhance the city in which they reside. With more than 150 community stakeholders, business owners and civil rights advocates in attendance, planners expect the event will be a great way to learn more about civil rights and visible differences in the city.

Golaszewski said he feels strongly that “making our cities and region in West Michigan the greatest place to live, work and play for all of us is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart … and that’s us.”

The event is complimentary and scheduled for 8:30-10 a.m., Tuesday, in the Intermission restaurant located inside Van Andel Arena.

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