Wanting to put into practice a different type of business model than he’d witnessed so far during his legal career, attorney Steve Hilger struck out on his own in 2008. He quickly gained partners Ben Hammond and Aileen Leipprandt, and later Mark Rysberg, forming the present day Hilger Hammond.
The law firm, which is located in the Minhaar Building in downtown Grand Rapids, has grown to include five additional employees and has built a strong reputation in construction law and complex commercial litigation.
As it celebrates its five-year-anniversary this month, Hilger said the firm has succeeded in its goals.
“Overall, we’ve been able to accomplish running the business the way we wanted to run the business model, and its working out very well for us,” Hilger said.
Hilger wanted to run his law firm based on fundamental business practices and knew he needed to align himself with people who had an entrepreneurial drive and an understanding of how businesses work.
“I think all of us are very entrepreneurial,” he said. “Some lawyers are not. I think that is one of the collective qualities of the firm. We all share an entrepreneurial spirit.”
He said people are the core of the business. The firm focuses on its people, and values every person equally for what they bring to the table.
“The people we bring into the fold have to have certain qualities. Number one they have to be good people — good strong individuals with a good moral fiber, for lack of a better term.”
Hilger said that he also has a firm “no assholes” rule.
“That’s the bottom line. We want people in the firm who are not assholes because, frankly, if you have people that you work with who are difficult to deal with, it makes the whole day not fun,” he said. “We all like each other, we socialize together, we do things out of the office together — and that is lawyers and staff: everybody.”
To help ensure the atmosphere of the office remains positive, Hilger said everyone is given a say in hiring.
“I want to make sure everybody gets a say in their observations about the person,” he said.
Hilger Hammond lawyers have to be standouts in their construction practices and have business acumen and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“My attitude about recruiting lawyers is always recruit somebody who is better and smarter than yourself and, if you do that, then good things will happen,” he said. “If you surround yourself with people who are better and smarter than you are, the whole team raises up a level.”
As far as fundamental business principles, Hilger said the firm focuses on overhead costs, spending and marketing.
“Those are the big things that I had disagreements with, and I had my own ideas as to how you market and how you move the business forward in terms of planning and business plans,” Hilger explained.
He said having that business focus provides huge benefits to clients.
“I’ve been able to harness the best horsepower in terms of legal services, really, in western Michigan, right here. They know that we stay right at the cutting edge of what the law is, and we watch it very carefully. … We provide a great value to our clients because we can give them top quality service for a lesser price.”
Hilger also emphasizes the firm’s participation in the construction industry, from board involvement to speaking engagements discussing hot industry topics.
“We get involved in the community here to make sure that we pass on some of the information that we have, and we participate in the management of the construction community at large,” he said.
“We really try to stay out in front of the industry, so we have people who are active board members and actively involved in the construction industry from a board management point of view. We are actively involved in the industry from a speaking engagement point of view. We are actively involved in the community in terms of legal representation. And that, I think, is what separates us from a lot of different firms.”
As an example, Hilger said that on Sept. 26, the firm co-hosted the West Michigan Construction Industry Forum with Beene Garter and Pinnacle Insurance. He also noted several speaking engagements in the coming months.
“I think that we are right on track,” he said. “In fact, I think that we are looking for expansion and ways to expand our practice.”