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News & Press: FOCUS

Law Firms at the Epicenter of Greater Lansing's Economy

Saturday, September 1, 2018  
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According to the State Bar of Michigan, there are more than 2,450 lawyers licensed to practice in Ingham County (October 2016). The Ingham County Bar Association currently has 768 members. The numbers only tell a partial story of the of how attorneys and their firms impact the Greater Lansing region. Unless you are an attorney or in need of one, it is easy to overlook the size, scope and influence that law firms have on our community and economy.

“Lawyers and their law firms touch business in every conceivable way and help facilitate growth of the economy in the region,” said Mike Sanders, an attorney who serves as a partner and president of Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC.

The presence of a large insurance industry and state and local government have helped facilitate a stable base to serve for the legal sector in the region.

“As the state capitol, Lansing is the epicenter of Michigan’s legal industry,” said Mark Burzych, member, Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes. “Laws are made by the legislature and Governor and are ultimately interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court.”

“The whole legal industry for Michigan emanates from Lansing,” said Kevin Roragen, shareholder, current president and executive committee member of Loomis Law Firm. “It all starts here in the seat of government.”

“Add in to that, two law schools and a Big Ten university and it creates a lot of opportunities for lawyers and law firms,” said Curtis Hadley, managing attorney at Willingham and Coté in East Lansing.

FOCUS magazine spoke with leaders at four local law firms that are among those that serve the business community and are at the epicenter of the regional economy.

Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes

Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes has grown steadily since its founding in January 2008, to 15 lawyers today. When they founded the firm, the four founding partners each had 20 to 30 years of experience in their areas of expertise — municipal law, corporate and business law (with an emphasis on the hospitality industry and franchising), energy law, and labor & employment law.

“Since our founding, our municipal practice has grown significantly by adding a large number of local units of government, as well as representation of a significant number of county drain commissioners throughout the state of Michigan,” said Burzych.

“We continue to represent these local units of government in areas of general municipal law and labor and employment law.”

The firm’s corporate and business practice has also expanded to include the representation of over 25 franchise systems throughout the country, as well as the hospitality industry in Michigan in all areas of corporate law, liquor regulatory law, and essentially all practice areas private sector businesses may encounter.

The firm employs 15 lawyers, including eight partners (members), six associates, and one of-counsel. They also employ one paralegal, three full-time law clerks, four legal assistants, and one CPA professional. Burzych is proud of the firm’s culture which places an emphasis on delivering solutions in what he calls a collaborative and collegial atmosphere that allows for fun at the same time.

“It is rewarding that we are now employing more than 20 people who are dedicated and loyal to the law firm and who are each investing in themselves, their families, and the community,” said Burzych. “We are proud of the accomplishments of our colleagues and the fact that this little business can help people achieve their dreams, professionally and personally, like home ownership, as one example.”

As is the case in most industries, Burzych believes adapting to technology will play a large role in future success.

“The technological advances in the next 10 years will be revolutionary for law firms,” said Burzych. “Our goal is to stay on the leading edge of technology in the legal industry and remain nimble in our ability to adjust to changes.”

Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC

Foster Swift Collins & Smith traces its origins to 1902. That was when Walter S. Foster established a law office in downtown Lansing. The timing was right for Foster’s young firm. Michigan’s auto industry was in its ascendancy and one of the firm’s first clients was a carmaking pioneer, Ransom E. Olds, the founder of the Oldsmobile marque. Walter S. Foster’s son, Richard B. Foster, joined the firm in 1932. In 1955, Theodore W. Swift and John L. Collins joined the firm. In 1963, Webb A. Smith was added to the masthead, giving the firm the name by which it is known today. It was under the younger Foster’s leadership that Foster Swift really began to experience growth.

“There weren’t really a lot of large law firms in Michigan at that time,” said Sanders. “He started building a law firm in a substantial way in the mid-50’s and 60’s and we grew from a one lawyer firm in one office to what we have become today.”

Today, Foster Swift has approximately 110 lawyers and 125-130 additional staff in six offices throughout Michigan (Lansing, Southfield, Grand Rapids, Holland, St. Joseph and Traverse City). The firm serves clients in virtually every area of the law, consisting of six basic practice groups and 50 sub-practice groups.

Foster Swift’s growth has occurred organically, primarily as a result of hiring young associates out of law school each year. Sanders cites the firm’s culture which he says makes him excited to come to work each day after 35 years.

“We hire people based on four criteria: smart, hard-working, ambitious and nice people,” said Sanders. “It started that way in 1902 and continues that way now. We get along at the firm. We work hard for each other and provide great service. All of us at the firm who came long after this firm was founded are heirs to that legacy.”

Foster Swift has also had a number of its lawyers ascend to judicial positions including current U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Justice David McKeague, current Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kurtis Wilder, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Lindemer and other judicial positions including circuit court and administrative law judges.

Loomis, Ewert, Parsley, Davis & Gotting P.C.

George Loomis and Plummer Snyder founded Loomis Law in 1953. The firm was initially known for its work in highly regulated public utilities. Over the years, the firm has added attorneys that brought expertise in real estate, business, oil, gas and natural resources. Today, Loomis is a full-service business oriented firm that also does work in affordable housing, tax credit financing, municipal law, estate planning. Loomis has grown to a team of 40-45 that includes 20 attorneys (soon to be 22 when bar results are released), six paralegals, 10 administrative professionals and other staff. The firm forecasts more development of additional legal services in the years ahead.

“We’re starting to see development in the areas of intellectual property and patent law and immigration,” said Roragen.

Roragen believes one of Loomis Law’s great strengths is that is small enough to provide personalized service, but at the same time big enough and broad enough to cover a vast range of legal issues and provide a wide range of legal services.

“You get the one-on-one feeling of having your own personal attorney as opposed to a big, faceless firm,” said Roragen. “At the same time we have experts in a lot of different fields that are recognized statewide and nationally. That adds up to quality legal service that we provide our clients.”

Facing complex legal issues every day can be a challenging life, however, Roragen says the team at Loomis truly enjoys tackling the tough issues and they try to make it fun.

“We tackle thorny problems that don’t always sound as exciting such as tax planning and partnership agreements,” said Roragen. “We make it exciting because we love what we do. It is a pleasure to come to work every day.”

Loomis is expanding its firm into other regions of the state having just opened an office in Grand Rapids and considering a presence in other areas.

“Laws are getting more and more complex which in turn makes decisions for businesses and people more complex,” said Roragen. “As choices continue to become more complicated we will be there to help clients sort through those decisions.”

Willingham & Coté, P.C.

Willingham and Coté was founded 55 years ago by Jack Willingham and Jack Coté. They are now a third-generation law firm that has been located in East Lansing its entire existence. Located in downtown East Lansing, the firm currently has 14 attorneys and 13 support staff.

“The majority of our attorneys do litigation work,” said Hadley. “We represent insurance companies and do quite a bit of work involving business disputes. We have a three-attorney medical malpractice group which is a significant part of our insurance work. We do quite a bit of work in no fault auto insurance.”

The firm also features an appellate specialist, an attorney that specializes in family law and a three-attorney practice group that works on estate planning, business planning and representing small businesses. The firm also has a practice group that works in the area of alcohol beverage representing wholesalers and retailers.

Hadley feels the longevity of Willingham and Coté has contributed to a reputation of being a stable firm that produces high quality work and results. Hadley also notes the firm emphasizes the importance of experiencing a quality of life outside of work.

“We don’t use people up,” said Hadley. “We don’t hire people just to bill hours. We try to have attorneys, associates and staff who are well-rounded. We work hard but we realize that expectations have to be reasonable and that people have lives outside of practicing law.”

Willingham and Coté believes in giving back to the region and supports a number of community endeavors. For many years the firm sponsored the East Lansing Art Fair and Wharton Center events. Hadley is particularly proud of the work many of the attorneys quietly perform behind the scenes, including volunteer work for veterans in Veteran’s treatment court, volunteering for the American Legion, Habitat for Humanity and pro bono work through legal services.

Hadley expects Willingham and Coté to continue to emphasize the same set of values that has made it successful since 1963.

“I feel lucky to be associated with people who are honest and ethical in their dealings with the courts, clients and with opposing counsel and opposing parties,” said Hadley. “Even though litigation is an adversarial process, our attorneys work hard at being civil and respectful.”

Click here to download the September issue of FOCUS.

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