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Keeping client relationships on track

May 18, 2016
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Focusing on lasting relationships may not always be the most profitable in the short term, but it pays off. That’s what two law firms celebrating milestones this year as well as a third that’s been around for more than a century say is essential to their longevity.

As the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrates the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, its legal partner has its own milestone with the track.

Ice Miller LLP and IMS are celebrating an 80-year relationship this year, a relationship that has withstood a world war and more than 70 500-mile races. The firm has seen changes, expansion and controversy with the track, but attorneys said they have enjoyed every minute of representing such a historic and important institution.

“It’s an exciting client. We’ve handled lots of big matters and as the dollar amount gets bigger, I haven’t lost track of that tradition and heritage,” Ice Miller partner David Mattingly said. “I’ve always felt like I was a caretaker of something special for Indianapolis and I take that caretaking aspect very seriously.”

In the early part of the firm’s relationship with IMS, Mattingly said nearly everyone spent some time at the track during the month of May. Even now, there’s a large contingent that deals with Speedway matters.

And the firm doesn’t just represent IMS itself, but all of its properties, including the Hall of Fame and Museum, the IMS Foundation and the IndyCar series as a whole. What the firm has done for the Speedway in 80 years has varied depending on the organization’s needs and has included contract and tax matters, labor issues and municipal compliance.

“The things I have done have run the gamut from personal injury to premises liability,” said Angela Krahulik, a partner at Ice Miller. “I can remember only two arguments I’ve actually had for that client — one over ownership of a car at the museum and one over a complicated contract issue. The work we’ve done for them is interesting because it’s been so varied.”

Ice Miller partner Mark Richards, the lead attorney working for IMS, said the relationship has lasted this long because of the personal connections the firm has made and the great partner IMS has been in return.

“It’s about being accessible to your client and available when you’re needed,” he said. “Things happen with IMS, sometimes very unexpectedly, and you need to be prepared to kick into action at a moment’s notice. It’s a pleasure to work with a client that does the right thing the right way.”

Part of maintaining the relationship has been a willingness to change to what is needed with the times, Mattingly said. That means keeping up with technology in a changing world, and also hiring the right people and preparing them to take over when a generation moves on. Mattingly pointed out Krahulik is part of the next generation from him.

“It’s knowing the business and where the transition or change is and being helpful in that process,” Krahulik said.

Mattingly said the firm has been through some great times with the Speedway and has had a hand in some interesting events, including the combining of IndyCar and ChampCar and refining IndyCar’s protest and appeals procedures.

The firm isn’t done either, Krahulik said, as it is working now toward giving IMS a better way to store records and more efficient ways to access them.

The firm has also reached out to its community. Ice Miller partner Lacy Johnson purchased 250 tickets and donated them to Indianapolis Public Schools, which will send seventh- and eighth-graders who had perfect or near-perfect attendance to the race. IMS is providing a VIP experience for the students.

“I like the people at the Speedway and hopefully they like us,” Mattingly said. “We’re all in this to make this work.”

Ice Miller isn’t the only firm that’s been able to maintain long term-relationships. Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn in Evansville has been in business for more than 100 years, and Mark Samila, co-managing partner at the firm, said the firm takes a long-term view of its client relationships.

Samila Samila

“We view clients often times as friends,” Samila said. “A lot of our kids have grown up together and we socialize together. We truly appreciate and like our clients.”

Samila said several attorneys may have contacts with a client, which helps when a transition time arrives. The firm also finds a way to match attorneys’ strengths to clients’ needs.

“It’s a culture that’s instilled within the firm,” Samila said. “KDDK is a good place to work and we emphasize our attorneys contributing to the community.”

70 years in business

Kightlinger & Gray LLP is also celebrating a milestone this year, as this will be its 70th year in business. John Drummy, a senior partner in Indianapolis and part of the management committee at the firm, also said a long-term view of relationships is necessary for sustainability.

“It’s not always about profitability,” Drummy said. “You need to treat your clients like you want to be treated, understanding the needs of the client. The client is always right.”

Peterson Peterson

Partner Ginny Peterson said that means always staying in constant communication with your client and never seeming too busy to talk with them, even when you might be.

“It’s also about talking their language,” she said. “You want to be empathetic to what your clients are dealing with.”

Partner Tom Jarzyniecki Jr. said sometimes that commitment to service involves passing a client to another attorney who has more of a specialization in a certain field, or possibly suggesting a different firm entirely that can handle the client’s situation better.

“Sometimes you need to pass the torch to a friend or another attorney,” Jarzyniecki said. “We have a familiarity and relationship with some other firms as well, and we want our clients to get the best service possible.”

The firm has also taken the view that clients are firm clients, which means there can be multiple attorneys working on a case. That also means when it’s time to transition, the transition is smooth.

clients-ice-miller-airport-15col.jpg From left Ice Miller attorneys Angela Krahulik, Tony Aaron, chief managing partner Steve Humke, Hulman Motorsports senior vice president Allison Melangton, Ice Miller attorney Jenifer Brown, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles and IMS lead attorney Mark Richards celebrate their relationship. (Photo courtesy of Ice Miller)

Jennifer S. Ellis, director of administration, said expanding the firm into multiple offices has helped by creating more of a focus on communication. Expansion also has caused it to re-evaluate firm management, which is not a bad thing. Both Peterson and Jarzyniecki sit on the firm’s management committee.

“We’ve focused on common practices, and that has helped,” Ellis said.

There’s also been a focus on building relationships outside of legal services, sometimes offering legal advice without charge, and working with charitable organizations to improve the communities where Kightlinger & Gray has a presence.

Peterson said the company always encourages feedback from its clients, which has helped it improve.

“We become a better organization when people talk to us,” she said. “We need to know how we can do better next time.”•

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