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Outside law firms find fertile ground in Indianapolis

June 4, 2014

The gutted 24th floor of the BMO building in Indianapolis offers panoramic views in every direction. Linden Barber visualizes the space taking shape, but he doesn’t see himself in a corner office.

“The corners are all democratic. There is no corner office in Indianapolis at Quarles & Brady,” said Barber, managing partner of the location that opened last month. Instead, those premium spaces will be remodeled as common areas where attorneys will collaborate and confer with clients.

“No one’s going to quarrel,” Barber said, pausing upon catching his pun, “over who gets which office.”

So far, nine attorneys have signed on at Quarles & Brady, and they’ll be working 10 floors down until renovations are complete, likely in November. They’ll share central space on the 24th floor, and Barber said the blank slate is being designed to accommodate more than 30 attorneys.

That’s a testament to what Quarles & Brady and other larger firms have seen in the legal market here—promise enough to set up shop in Indianapolis not through merger or acquisition, but by expanding with the launch of a branded office. And then expanding some more.

“We look at the vibrant economy of Indianapolis and what those areas of the economy are, and we really think they’re in intellectual property, they’re in health care, they’re in manufacturing,” Barber said.

“We saw this as a good fit to offer services in a more robust way to our clients,” he said. “We’re going to follow our clients and give them a legal firm that will enter into partnership with them to help them succeed.”

In terms of corporate size, Quarles & Brady is slightly smaller than large firms with Indianapolis roots such as Barnes & Thornburg LLP and Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. FaegreBD ranked 66th on The American Lawyer’s 2013 Am Law 200 list, while Barnes was 102nd. Quarles was ranked 129th.

Firm officials said some of Quarles’ Indiana clients include Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative, Emmis Communications Corp., and Just Marketing Inc. The firm serves several other Hoosier clients, mostly in the financial services, manufacturing and health care sectors.

“The firm has taken a very strategic approach to what are our clients’ needs and where are we going to have offices,” Barber said. And the firm’s local office growth will come from recruiting lawyers who are a good fit with the firm’s collaborative culture. Those hires may come through lateral moves or by bringing on recent law school grads.

“You’ve got a lot of home-grown talent here,” said Barber, a native of northwest Indiana.

Other large out-of-town firms that have expanded to Indianapolis also have found room to grow.

Connie Lindman is managing partner of Chicago-based SmithAmundsen LLC’s Indianapolis office. It recently marked its first year in business, and it’s been a successful one.

“We’ve doubled the size of the group in a year, and in our new space we have room to double again,” Lindman said. The goal is to bring the number of attorneys practicing in the Indianapolis office to about 12 by year’s end.

Lindman leads SmithAmundsen’s firm-wide intellectual property practice from the Indianapolis location, but she said it’s been the intention since the launch of the location here to grow into a full-service firm.

“We would be happy to recruit in any area of business or commercial law,” she said. “I would like to move more quickly on that, and that is why we are actively looking for laterals.”

The Indianapolis legal market is competitive despite its lack of Fortune 500 headquarters, she said.

“I think companies of all size want to receive top-quality legal services, and they want to receive them at Midwest rates,” Lindman said. “We are operating at a world-class level, and we can do that from Indianapolis.”

With its expansion in Indianapolis, SmithAmundsen has grown to a firm of more than 150 lawyers across seven offices around the Midwest.

Operating the global firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C. from its Indianapolis office, managing partner Kim Ebert said the firm’s overall growth since opening the Indianapolis location in 2000 has been remarkable.

The office started with eight lawyers and now has 35 in Indianapolis, according to Ebert. That’s representative of the firm’s overall growth—from 140 attorneys in 2000 to more than 720. The number of offices also has multiplied, from 12 to 45, including recent expansions in London and Berlin.

Ebert said Ogletree has posted average revenue gains of about 15 percent annually since 2007, and the Atlanta-based firm surged up the Am Law 100 from 97th place in 2012 to 88th in 2013.

“That may have been the biggest move on the list, other than through mergers,” he said.

The firm’s focus on labor and employment law provides insulation from some of the more cyclical areas of practice, Ebert said. At the same time, he added, there’s ongoing consolidation of firms with significant labor practices.

Another trend, Ebert said, is that of large national employers signing law firms to preferred provider agreements to handle all their legal needs.

“So we have a distinct advantage in that we have 45 offices. We’ve been successful competing for those types of proposals,” he said.

For Barber, the view of Indianapolis from the unfinished shell of an office is a market likely to continue to attract expansion from national firms that see opportunities.

“We’ve got a long-term commitment here,” he said.
 

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