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Mid-sized firms work connections

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Chicago attorney Jay Frank had a client with a major problem very far away a couple of decades ago. The client needed legal help in California and turned to Frank for assistance.

Frank checked Martindale-Hubbell to look for qualified attorneys in the jurisdiction where the matter occurred, and he referred his client to someone he thought would be a good match.

“The case went south,” Frank recalled. As a result, the displeased client severed ties not just with the firm that Frank had referred, but also with Frank’s firm.

frank Frank

“I decided there had to be a better way of doing this,” said Frank, a member of the 44-lawyer Chicago firm Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa, and president and founding member of the Legal Netlink Alliance.

In the early 1990s, a handful of lawyers from mid-sized firms who knew one another and had referred work among themselves sat down to come up with a solution to problems like the one Frank described. Ed Volk, a partner at Newby Lewis Kaminski & Jones LLP in LaPorte, was one of them.

“It was an effort to solve a problem every lawyer has had over the years,” Volk recalled. “What do you do when you have a good client with a big problem halfway across the country?”

Larger firms with offices and networks around the country had the resources to easily make those sorts of referrals, but firms such as Volk’s – now with 13 lawyers – were at a disadvantage.

Volk recalled that the seven attorneys who came together for that first meeting at the Standard Club in Chicago agreed to each come back with one more new member they knew and trusted.

“These are firms we have relationships with,” he said.

And that’s the difference that members of Legal Netlink Alliance point out when comparing the affiliation to other similar legal networking organizations.

Since it was founded more than 20 years ago, Legal Netlink Alliance has grown from a handful of firms to about 150 across the country and in 41 nations.

“It really does level the playing field,” said managing partner Marc Fine of Rudolph Fine Porter & Johnson LLP, which has offices in Evansville and Crawfordsville, and has been affiliated with the network for many years.

Firms must meet a few key criteria: they must be small or mid-sized firms in their markets with a range of practice capabilities, must have attorneys with AV ratings from Martindale-Hubbell, and must come from the recommendation of an alliance member who’s had good business dealings with the firm.

“You don’t just fill out an application and join this organization,” Volk said. It remains very much a word-of-mouth system of referral.

Frank said that’s important, too, because it makes firms answering inquiries more responsive. He said his office prioritizes matters referred through the alliance, and he believes other firms do, too.

volk Volk

It’s who you know

Volk said the alliance is a nonprofit and manages to keep its dues minimal compared with other networks. But it also asks a bit more of its member firms than other networking organizations might.

“The important thing is members of firms attend meetings on a semi-regular basis so they get to know each other,” he said. “That’s important. … That personal aspect is very high on our priority list.”

“What this allows us to do is a couple of things,” said Arend Abel, a partner at Cohen & Malad LLP in Indianapolis who’s on the alliance’s executive committee. “It allows us to help out our clients whenever they have a problem in another jurisdiction, and it allows us to know they will be placed in good hands with firms we know.”

Abel gave a quick overview of the kinds of client assistance Cohen & Malad has provided that’s been facilitated through the alliance. The firm had clients with matters in Kentucky with respect to estate planning and family law, and commercial litigation. The firm has used an Ohio firm with respect to some health care matters and used the alliance on behalf of clients in Michigan on a banking matter.

Locally, the firm has assisted alliance members from Minnesota and California, among others.

“It happens at least several times a year,” he said. “I even had occasion to assist a firm in the UK with respect to a matter where they needed service on an Indiana resident.”

Abel said a key for membership in the alliance is firms need to show an ability to handle transactional work and business litigation well, which allows the mid-sized members to compete with larger firms.

abel Abel

“We look for firms that are responsive and responsible,” he said.

Volk said when the founding partners sat down to discuss what is now the alliance, the idea was to build a national network. As time passed and practices went global, so did the vision for the alliance.

“We’ve had situations literally all over the world,” Volk said. “I’ve talked to people in Beijing, Romania, Germany.”

But an examination of the alliance’s member firms shows very little overlap in geographic regions. “That’s by design,” said Volk, who like Abel also is a member of the executive committee. “We’re looking for a good firm that can handle the work when it’s there.”

Indiana is representative of that, he said. Just three Hoosier firms are members – Cohen & Malad, Newby Lewis, and Rudolph Fine.

Side benefits

Frank and other attorneys said the alliance has produced some unanticipated results.

He chatted at a recent alliance conference with an attorney from Turkey, and they got to know each other over a drink and swapped stories about their families. “I know if I call him, he’s going to be there for me and take care of my clients,” Frank said.

There won’t be a referral fee, nor would there be for the Turkish lawyer if he needed Frank’s help with something in Chicago. “We run kind of a low-key organization, and economics doesn’t play a role in what we do,” Frank said.

“But we have the ability to refer our clients anywhere in the world, and to my clients, that makes me look like a hero,” he said.

fine Fine

“They literally treat our clients as their own clients,” Fine said, “putting them in line as if they were their best clientele.” That kind of treatment ensures reciprocal treatment when other matters arise from member firms, he said.

“When you are welcomed it really does create a nice feeling for the referring lawyer, and I think the client experience is enhanced,” Fine said.

Members of the executive committee teleconference monthly, and the alliance hosts twice-annual conferences in the spring and winter that Volk and others said are well-attended.

“The opportunity to establish really fine, personal relationships with good people has been an unexpected byproduct but a very welcome one with this organization,” Volk said.

“Back when we started this, there weren’t a lot of legal networks around,” Frank recalled. “We grew not just to make sure we had someone in Tulsa, Okla., but a very good firm in Tulsa, Okla.

“We have some darned fine lawyers involved in this organization, and it’s sort of morphed into this situation where we’re not only professional colleagues but personal friends,” he said.•
 

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  1. Looks like 2017 will be another notable year for these cases. I have a Grandson involved in a CHINS case that should never have been. He and the whole family are being held hostage by CPS and the 'current mood' of the CPS caseworker. If the parents disagree with a decision, they are penalized. I, along with other were posting on Jasper County Online News, but all were quickly warned to remove posts. I totally understand that some children need these services, but in this case, it was mistakes, covered by coorcement of father to sign papers, lies and cover-ups. The most astonishing thing was within 2 weeks of this child being placed with CPS, a private adoption agency was asking questions regarding child's family in the area. I believe a photo that was taken by CPS manager at the very onset during the CHINS co-ocerment and the intent was to make money. I have even been warned not to post or speak to anyone regarding this case. Parents have completed all requirements, met foster parents, get visitation 2 days a week, and still the next court date is all the way out till May 1, which gives them(CPS) plenty of to time make further demands (which I expect) No trust of these 'seasoned' case managers, as I have already learned too much about their dirty little tricks. If they discover that I have posted here, I expect they will not be happy and penalized parents again. Still a Hostage.

  2. They say it was a court error, however they fail to mention A.R. was on the run from the law and was hiding. Thus why she didn't receive anything from her public defender. Step mom is filing again for adoption of the two boys she has raised. A.R. is a criminal with a serious heroin addiction. She filed this appeal MORE than 30 days after the final decision was made from prison. Report all the facts not just some.

  3. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

  4. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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