Attorneys rewarded by focusing on narrow areas of the law

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When Barb Albano bought her first UPS Store in Noblesville, she remembers her attorney coming to the closing and watching while she signed the papers.

When she began the process of buying her second store in Westfield, Albano turned to her neighbor for legal assistance.

Albano’s neighbor, Josh Brown, not only has experience in business, but he has built his solo practice concentrating primarily on franchise law. He helps entrepreneurs who buy or sell franchises navigate the federal and state laws and regulations that govern the operations of these businesses.

joshbrown-15col.jpg Attorney Josh Brown, who gave up corporate law to focus primarily on helping franchise owners, meets with his client Barb Albano at her Noblesville UPS Store. (IL Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

“It’s a very, very fascinating area of the law,” Brown said. “It touches on a lot of business concepts.”

Equally fascinating to Brown was the number of individuals who invest their life savings into buying a franchise without enlisting the help of an attorney. The franchise agreements can number upward of 400 pages and bind the owner-operators anywhere from five to 20 years.

With his experience in business and his desire to help small business owners, Brown carved out his niche legal practice. His firm in Carmel is small and very specialized, but he gets to know his clients serving not only as an attorney but also as a consultant.

Brown’s cross-town neighbor is Phil Sever, co-founder of the Sever Storey law firm which focuses solely on representing landowners in eminent domain cases. Sever, too, has established a niche practice that enables him to wear shorts and sandals to work and to find some positive outcome in what he sees as potentially unfair land acquisitions.

The common thread connecting Brown and Sever is that their niche practices, each developed through personal and professional experiences, incorporate practical approaches to serving their clients.

Pickles and pipelines

Brown’s expertise in franchise law began with part-time jobs he worked while in high school. Today, as he chooses sandwich toppings at a Subway restaurant, he knows from experience exactly how many pickles are to be placed on each sub.

He always planned to go to law school. However, after finishing his undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, Brown wanted a break from the classroom. For five years, he worked full time in business management, including a couple of stints for franchise owner-operators.

It is not surprising that he was drawn to business law after graduating from Valparaiso University Law School in 2006. Brown worked for private firms, doing mostly corporate litigation where he soon realized he did not want to build his whole career on litigation.

He explained he gets much more enjoyment from helping people build things rather than dealing with the mess after the business falls apart.

Sever, by contrast, discovered the possibilities that eminent domain law held only when the Rockies Express Pipeline cut across south-central Indiana.

Dubbed the REX pipeline, the 1,600-plus-mile conduit was constructed to carry natural gas from Colorado to eastern Ohio. When construction reached Indiana, Sever and his law partner Tonny Storey started attending the public meetings between the energy company and landowners. Sever Storey took on 20 to 30 property owners as clients and soon their general practice shifted to a niche practice.

StoreySever-15col.jpg Phil Sever (right) and Tonny Storey, founding partners at Sever Storey, focus their entire practice on representing landowners in eminent domain cases. (Submitted photo)

Sever and Storey found they really enjoyed representing landowners and digging into the finer points of complex eminent domain law. Since the REX pipeline, Sever Storey has opened offices in Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina, following big road projects that involve land grabs.

Sever acknowledged he never expected to be in four states but the expansion, “just made sense.”

Relating to clients

Speaking of his work, Sever peppers his language with terms like “regular folks,” “normal folks,” and “the takers.” They are his words for landowners facing eminent domain and the government agencies scooping up property for large public works projects.

This language stems from his experience as a student attending the University of Akron School of Law at night. He spent his days working as a document clerk for a large firm where he believed he was well liked, playing on the firm’s basketball team while still managing to keep his grades in the top quarter of his class.

Sever then approached the hiring partner about a summer associate position. That partner schooled Sever on the terminology of first-, second- and third-tier law schools, telling him the firm only hires students and graduates from the Ivy League and would never consider anyone from Akron.

The response from Sever was, “I quit.” If the firm held no opportunity for him, Sever did not want to waste his time.

When landowners come to him with government offers for their homes, Sever remembers that a prestigious law firm snubbed a guy going to a “normal school.” In the eminent domain situation, he explained, the government has been planning for years but only gives each household a month to decide to either sign the agreement or get taken to court.

To Sever, that is an unfair situation and one he and his firm tries to remedy.

Brown grew up around the legal profession, having a father, aunt and uncle who are attorneys, and he saw how lawyers can help people. He wants his clients to consider him to be more than someone who can untangle a legal matter. Brown would like to be seen as a trusted business advisor with whom clients feel comfortable asking questions and bouncing around ideas.

“If I can build that kind of relationship with my clients, I’ve done a really good job,” he said.

Bye, bye billable hour

Both Brown and Sever turned to alternative fee structures because of their clients. Unless they are dealing with larger companies or corporations, charging by the hour will not attract many small businesses or even be feasible for individuals.

Brown typically charges his clients a flat fee. He outlines the services he can provide and then assigns a dollar amount. This eliminates any surprises that can come when a client opens an attorney’s bill and stops the internal debate clients have with themselves about whether to call the lawyer with a question.

“I was just kind of blown away, myself, by the number of people who don’t seek out attorneys,” he said. “People do whatever they can to avoid getting an attorney because they feel it’s really expensive and they’ll get charged for every phone call.”

Sever primarily works on a contingency fee arrangement. “Regular folks” are better able to manage a contingency fee because few are sitting on piles of cash from which they can pay an hourly rate, he explained.

Under his fee structure, his firm takes a percentage of any amount increased from the original offer.

As an example, Sever and his firm represented the Delphi Pentecostal Church in an eminent domain case with the state over the Hoosier Heartland project. The church rejected the state’s initial offer of $534,000 and was able to resolve the matter for $1 million. Sever based his fee on the approximate $500,000 value his firm added.

All the little details

Brown’s client Albano became a small business owner after getting downsized for the third time in five years. She turned to Brown for help navigating the agreements and disclosures that come with purchasing a franchise, and she still consults with him whenever she has a legal question or needs direction.

Brown pays attention to the details, she said. He points out things she did not even know to consider. That allows her to focus on her niche of helping customers with their shipping and printing needs.

“I enjoy ‘wowing’ people,” Albano said. “It gives me the opportunity to interact with the people and solve their problems.”•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.