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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. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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