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Bar News - January 19, 2007


Managing Partner Perspectives: McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton

By:


The following is part of a series of interviews with the managing partners of New Hampshire law firms on trends in the legal profession and how law firms are responding.

Steven V. Camerino and Richard A. Samuels, of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, recently talked to the NH Bar News about what they see as the major trends in the legal profession, and how they expect these trends to impact the state’s law firms. The McLane law firm, one of New Hampshire’s largest law firms, was founded more than 80 years ago.

           

Camerino, former head of the firm’s Management Committee, and Samuels (who took over the reins Jan. 1) recently spoke to the NH Bar News about the state’s legal landscape and what strategies their firm is using to grow and prosper. A composite of their responses are excerpted below.

 

New Hampshire Law Firm Trends

           

Local firms face stiff competition from out-of-state practices that want to take on the most challenging and sophisticated work. To compete, we need to provide highly experienced, accomplished lawyers with expertise in the specific area in which clients have a problem or litigation. We think we’ve done a good job of doing that, and many times we can also offer a significant cost advantage.

 

Out-of-State Competition and Growth

           

[Competition is coming] largely from the Northeast. But we can take on specific practice areas beyond New Hampshire without necessarily having to establish offices there. For example, after we do specialized work with a client here, that client might have similar work elsewhere, and we frequently go with the client. While this isn’t the bulk of our practice at the moment, we’ve displaced law firms from other states, including New York. We think that’s where our practice is headed.

           

We developed our first strategic plan about five years ago, and we’re now revamping it to increase the amount of work we do outside of New Hampshire and outside of New England. But we’re still a New Hampshire-based firm.

 

Office Expansion Plans

           

Although most other large New Hampshire firms have made the choice to have out-of-state offices, we’ve felt that it isn’t necessary. It can add overhead, making it difficult to serve clients on a cost-effective basis, and it can also add challenges to maintaining the cohesiveness of the firm. It’s a challenge when you’re spread out, and we want to maintain who we are as a firm.

           

We have three offices now, in Portsmouth, Concord and Manchester. We expanded the space in our Portsmouth office earlier this year, and the Concord office is going to move in April.

 

Largest Growth in Practice Areas

           

Two areas of substantial growth are the health care industry and intellectual property. Overall, we’ll probably see growth in industries like high technology and biotechnology, as opposed to traditional areas like manufacturing.

 

At the same time, we’ll continue to focus on areas where we’ve had specialized expertise, even if it’s not part of an industry trend. For example, we’ve done a lot of environmental work concerning old manufactured gas plants. There are half a dozen or so sites related to that in this state, but it’s an even bigger problem in other states. I don’t know whether manufactured gas plants are a growth industry, but these are very complex cases and we know how to do them well.

 

Recruiting and Mentoring

           

It can be difficult, since we’re competing against Boston law firms for the best lawyers. We feel that we have to pay at the top of the market—there really isn’t any substitute for that. We also offer young lawyers an opportunity to be trained under attorneys who are well regarded and highly experienced.

           

One of the things that New Hampshire offers is the way we practice law here. It has a different feel than practicing law in a place like Boston or New York, and we think it’s a selling point. Our newer lawyers have greater contact directly with clients earlier in their careers than they would in a large urban firm.

           

We hired seven lawyers to start [last] fall, and I consider that a lot; [sometimes] it might be three [a year]. For this recruiting season, I think that we’re going to hire five. We also do some lateral hiring of experienced lawyers during the year, although a decade ago a lateral hire was an unusual event.

           

Mentoring is a word that’s easy to say, but very hard to do. New lawyers hunger for feedback and training; and no matter what you do, it’s never enough. We’ve found that it’s really important for our associates to have a contact at their own level, somebody they can go to with questions they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a director or mentor.

 

Practice Management

           

Unlike many firms our size, we don’t have a managing partner. Instead, we have an executive director, who is not a lawyer but has a great deal of business management experience. On a day-to-day basis our firm is run by the executive director, enabling all of our lawyers to practice law full time. Additionally, attorneys serve four-year terms on the management committee, and in the attorney’s fourth year, he/she becomes chair of that committee. We have 32 directors right now, and almost all of them serve on various committees at the firm to develop policies and make management decisions.

           

Our long-term business strategy is adopted by all of the directors. Once that’s set, it’s the management committee’s job to manage the firm in a way that pursues that plan. The strategic plan is done in five-year increments, but we look at it each year to see if it needs adjusting.

           

Overall, the directors set the policy, and the implementation is done by committees of lawyers when it relates to the practice side and by the executive director if it relates to the business side.

 

Technology at Work

           

We are a completely networked firm at this point. You can sit down in any office, at any desk here or at home, and plug into our network. That’s really 90 percent of what’s significant about the system. Just to give you an example of what that means to me [Steve Camerino] personally: I’m based in the Concord office. Absolutely everybody that I work with, except for my secretary, is somewhere other than Concord, and it makes no difference. The documents are all on the system, I revise them and we [e-mail] stuff back and forth. Where they are is not relevant.

           

Many of our clients are not in New Hampshire and we couldn’t practice without this technology. Our clients expect to be able to reach us whenever they need to, [including] evenings and weekends. That’s the nature of the practice.

 

Maintaining a Work-Life Balance

           

It’s a challenge. The good side of technology is that when you need to leave the office, you can. It’s okay to take off and go to your kid’s game, because you can come back in later, or follow up on [an issue] from home. The flip side is that ‘later’ is often after dinner, when you might rather be doing something else.

           

We both work more hours than we did 10 or 20 years ago, more hours than we anticipated. The pressure to get things done, and to do them well, is enormous.

           

Anybody who does this job spends a lot of time working, no matter how you count the hours. The most important thing about this work to me [Steve Camerino] is that I get energy out of it, rather than feeling drained. In order to do the kind of work that makes me want to get into the office early and be willing to stay late, I have to be connected. Technology really enables me to do work that I love to do, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. If you just count the hours, yes, we work a lot more time than we used to or that we ever thought we would. But I love doing it, and most of the time it doesn’t exhaust me. I make sure that I get to my kids’ school events, and I get home for dinner most nights. But the work is still there, so after dinner I flip on the computer instead of putting my feet up and watching television.

 

Committed to Pro Bono Work

 

Our firm has a strong tradition of and commitment to pro bono work. We recently contributed $100,000 to the Campaign for Legal Services, over and above our regular pro bono work. That said, our level of participation isn’t yet quite what we would like it to be. When Chief Justice John Broderick came [to the firm] to speak about pro bono recently, it created a lot of enthusiasm, especially among the younger lawyers.

           

We’re trying to give [pro bono work] more visibility and recognition. We hope that people coming here out of law school know that doing pro bono work is part of their professional obligation, that it’s the right thing to do, and that they’ll sign up to take cases. Last year we created the Jack Middleton Pro Bono Service Award to recognize this work.

           

The greatest challenge for us, particularly through the Pro Bono Referral System, is that we have no general practitioners—none—and we have relatively few folks who do family law. Most of the pro bono referrals are family law cases. That’s not an excuse, because we’re all trained as lawyers and we’re all capable of figuring out how to go to court and help people who aren’t otherwise represented. But it can be difficult.

 

Billing System

           

We don’t anticipate any significant changes in the near future. We have experimented [with alternatives to billing by the hour] at times, but that still seems to be the way the industry operates. What we are doing more of is creating budgets and project estimates, and sometimes in very large projects, we’re doing them in phases. On cases, clients want to have some sense of what to expect on an overall basis. But those are more projections than firm budgets, so that we can make reasoned decisions on staffing and things like that.

 

Diversity in the Workplace

           

We formed a diversity committee in the last couple of months to look at what we can do to encourage diversity, initially, at the attorney level. That came up because we had a client who asked us to report annually on the diversity of our workplace, and we felt that we could make a more active effort to increase the diversity of our staff. Frankly, we think that’s going to happen more and more.

 

Former Boston Globe reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Ann K. Crane is a freelance writer based in Meredith.

 

McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton

 

Established 1919

Offices: Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth

Attorneys: 85

Staff: 103, including all non-attorney personnel in all 3 offices

Practice Structure: 6 departments, 27 practice areas

Top Practice Areas: corporate business law, employment, real estate, intellectual property, commercial litigation, and contracts

Emerging Practice Areas: health care, intellectual property, high technology, biotech, education, immigration, enviromental

 

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