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Law firm's longtime chief gives suitors cold shoulder

Scott Olson
February 27, 2013
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Alan Levin has been managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg LLP for 16 years, far longer than the heads of most major Indianapolis law firms. But what most sets him apart is that he’s built his firm into a national practice by taking the maverick approach of going it alone instead of merging with an out-of-state rival.

Partners in December elected Levin, 58, to another three-year term, the sixth time they’ve done so in his 31-year legal career spent entirely at Barnes & Thornburg.
 

levin01-15col.jpg Alan Levin acknowledges that the law firm gets proposals from competitors interested in taking Barnes & Thornburg as a merger partner, but he consistently rebuffs them. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The firm has swelled in size since he took the helm. It now boasts about 550 lawyers in 12 offices, a whopping 135-percent increase from 16 years ago.

The firm’s total number of lawyers easily ranks it among the 100 largest in the country, National Law Journal rankings show.

“With a merger, you get a lot of lawyers real quick,” Levin said. “With us, it’s been gradual. But we’re comfortable with that approach.”

Barnes & Thornburg typically launches an office with just a few lawyers and grows it as necessary. Its latest addition, in Los Angeles, is a prime example. The office launched in 2011 with one lawyer and since has grown to 25.

Where Barnes & Thornburg might put down stakes next is uncertain. But what’s clear is that the growth has made it an attractive merger partner.

The firm has entertained several marriage proposals throughout the years – a few even seriously – but has never made it to the altar for fear of losing control of local operations.

Still, suitors come calling, sending out feelers to Levin nearly every month, only to be rebuffed.

Mike Williams, managing partner of Krieg DeVault LLP, the city’s sixth-largest firm, respects what Levin has accomplished. Having served as managing partner for 23 years, even longer than Levin, Williams has witnessed Indianapolis’ changing legal landscape that has swallowed up several firms.

“I would say from all appearances, they’ve been very successful with their geographic growth and their belief that they need to be in other markets outside of Indiana but still retain their corporate headquarters in Indianapolis,” Williams said. “That’s what we’ve done as well on a smaller scale.”

Tennis anyone?

Levin’s leadership style may best be described as fiercely competitive yet consensus-building.

His competitiveness can be traced to his love of tennis, which led him to play collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh. A native of Erie, Pa., Levin returned to the city to attend Mercyhurst College for his third and final year, graduating in 1976.

His command of the racket led him to Sandusky, Ohio, where he managed a tennis club for two years. He moved to Indiana upon landing a job as a tennis pro at a new club in Anderson.

But following in the footsteps of his father, a labor lawyer, Levin ultimately chose to pursue a legal career and enrolled in law school at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1979.

He served a summer clerkship at Barnes & Thornburg and has been at the firm since graduating in 1982.

Barnes & Thornburg formed the same year when locally based Barnes Hickam Pantzer & Boyd merged with South Bend-based Thornburg McGill Deahl Harman Carey & Murray.

Practicing in the tax area, Levin achieved partnership in 1990 and ascended to managing partner of the entire firm in 1997 after first leading Barnes & Thornburg’s Indianapolis office.

Barnes & Thornburg since has more than doubled its roster of lawyers both in Indianapolis and nationwide, often taking him out of the office and away from his law practice.

The strains of serving as a managing partner, and for as long as Levin has, are not lost on Julie Armstrong, executive director of the Indianapolis Bar Association.

“It’s just so stressful, and it requires you not to just be a lawyer but a businessperson who also practices law,” she said. “Many people don’t have an interest to do that and even more people say they don’t have the skill set to do that.”

Benefits of expansion

The firm’s dozen offices nationally are enough to land it coveted national law firm status among legal observers. That’s significant because the firm can serve clients from multiple parts of the country rather than defer to outside lawyers for assistance. In addition, and even more important, it gains access to new clients that otherwise would be unreachable.

Barnes & Thornburg officially launched the West Coast practice in February 2011, stretching its presence to the four major regions of the United States.

Before opening the Los Angeles office, Barnes & Thornburg entered Atlanta, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, in 2009. The firm has additional locations in Elkhart, Fort Wayne and South Bend, as well as in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Wilmington, Del.

The Indianapolis office has 237 attorneys. The Chicago office, with about 100 lawyers, is Barnes & Thornburg’s second-biggest.

Conversely, several outside firms have entered Indianapolis by opening offices or absorbing existing practices. The more prominent players include Greenville, S.C.-based Ogletree Nash Smoak & Stewart PC and Cleveland-based Benesh Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, in addition to Cincinnati firms Taft Stettinius Hollister LLP and Frost Brown Todd LLC.

Adding to the tumult: Two of Indianapolis’ largest firms, Baker & Daniels LLP and Bingham McHale LLP, merged with outside rivals to become Faegre Baker Daniels LLP and Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP.

Keeping its headquarters in Indianapolis allows Barnes & Thornburg to charge Midwestern fees, which are typically lower than in many parts of the country. Owning its building at 11 S. Meridian St. doesn’t hurt the rate structure, either.

So, while Levin isn’t willing to predict how many more terms he’ll serve as managing partner, he’s doubtful a merger is in the cards anytime soon.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that that would happen,” Levin said.

And that suits firm partners like John Maley just fine.

“It’s not an accident,” he said of the firm’s strategy. “It’s part of the strategic planning that the partnership has long supported.”•

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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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