Vision boards, sabbaticals, and flexible fee structures. Not typical legal jargon, but then again Alexander DeGance Barnett aka ADB Legal has never been typical.
From its very inception over a decade ago, this boutique firm specializing in representing management in litigation and trial has taken the path less traveled. Thanks to the vision shared by three exceptionally skilled attorneys who individually yet simultaneously decided they wanted a change, the concept of ADB became a reality.
Celebrating their 10th anniversary, Alexander DeGance Barnett represents management focusing on labor, employment and education law. A philosophy and promise of providing clients a personal and focused approach, along with the highest levels of quality and service found at a global firm, has proven to be the right formula for success.
Creating this inimitable practice are three diverse, and some say unlikely partners, Mark G. Alexander, Kelly DeGance and Michelle Barnett. Having worked together for many years, the trio of attorneys knew and respected one another and had come to recognize and appreciate one another’s skills and dedication. Of varying ages and at different stages in both their professional and personal lives, the commonalities the three shared were a passion for their clients, a driving dedication, and the desire to create something uniquely their own.
“It was late summer, early fall of 2009,” recalls Alexander, “when I essentially had an epiphany. I knew for certain that I was going to leave and do something else. After reflecting, I thought it would be great if the three of us struck out and formed our own firm.”
“Mark was ready to move on and independently Michelle and I had been discussing the same thing,” explains DeGance. “All worlds collided at the same time. We knew we were taking a big risk but also recognized the opportunity for great rewards, so we just took the leap without ever looking back.”
BEST OF TIMES/WORST OF TIMES
Just as Dickens so eloquently depicted, spring of 2010 was not the ideal economic climate for embarking on any new enterprise, and yet for the newly formed practice it also happened to be a service in high demand. For their area of the law, such fiscal downturns impact their clientele profoundly thereby creating an upsurge in business. More importantly, as a smaller firm, the three knew they had the opportunity to provide options for their clients that larger firms simply could not.
“The market was hungry and needed us,” says Barnett. “Because of our size and how we’re structured we are incredibly flexible and can turn on a dime.”
“The economy at large might have been down but for a practice like ours our practice is fairly level,” adds Alexander. “I think the most important element of our new firm was our commitment, our zeal for how we wanted to serve our clients in a flexible and highly responsive way, and the fact that we are all dedicated to excellence. That is a huge differentiator and something we’ve always harped on, that everything that goes out of this office is first-rate, top-notch.”
Built on the concept of a collaborative approach, each of these attorney’s unique skills and strengths were not only amplified by this alliance but seamlessly merged into a powerful synergistic team.
“From our earliest discussions of what we wanted in forming this firm, the word ‘collaboration’ was as constant as the words ‘mutual respect,’” says Barnett. “They go hand-in-hand. Because we value one another as professionals, as people, and for our unique skillsets, blending and creating a certain synergy came quite naturally.”
“Our practice is collaborative in nature,” DeGance concurs. “We approach our client relationships, our presentations to the court, and the merits of our practice as a team that succeeds together as one, unified group. Each partner commits to working for the benefit of the group and our clients as a whole.”
Together, they are an extension of their clients’ organizations. Their goal is to help clients succeed by maintaining a flexible, customized approach to their unique needs, gaining comprehensive knowledge and understanding of their industry and business, and remaining focused on their clients’ best interests.
“Teams, groups and human endeavors of any sort do better when you have people of diverse backgrounds come together and work together in a collaborative and cohesive way,” says Alexander. “It’s not a novel concept, but despite the lip-service many attorneys give to this idea many really do have a hard time working as a team. Lawyers tend to be individualistic. But at our firm we continue to strive for teamwork and working together in a collaborative way.”
A DECADE OF GROWTH
“It was never our intent to be the biggest firm,” notes Barnett. “Some people start firms and their goal is to have as many attorneys and locations as possible. That was never our plan. Over the years we have become more discriminating as to the type of work we do and have grown in a very deliberate and thoughtful way. We began with three attorneys and now have a team of 14, which is the size that we set out to be.”
DeGance echoes these sentiments. “We always wanted to have a smaller firm that really provides outstanding service,” she says. “So now, after ten years we’ve reached the size that we want to be. For the next ten years, our goal has shifted to retaining and growing our talent organically. Two of our attorneys, Samantha Giudici Berdecia and Todd Wright have become partners and potentially, years from now, they will be filling our shoes.”
As they grew, they never lost sight of the principles and objectives that are the foundation. “Teamwork and collaboration have remained integral,” says Alexander. “As we brought on additional lawyers and support staff it was with an eye to how they would not only fit within the existing team but what they could contribute to our clients, how those specific needs would be met. I would make the analogy that it’s like a sports team, each player has a specific role that moves the team towards the goal but is also there to support and fill-in as needed.”
A significant part of this expansion has been acquiring their own building. Just as they carefully and conscientiously enlarged their staff, Alexander, DeGance and Barnett were equally as strategic about taking this next step.
“Even in the earliest days of the firm we discussed the idea of having our own free-standing building,” says Barnett.
Three years after opening their doors, they purchased just such a building only to have it torn down so that they could create a custom space that would best suit their work and clients.
“We took our time,” says Alexander. “We closed on the property in 2013 but didn’t begin construction for another year. Every aspect was discussed and revised to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Located on Riverside Avenue between Lomax and Lancaster and just north of Memorial Park, this very modern building is within easy walking distance to Five Points and the riverfront and conveniently close to downtown. An added benefit to this rather elegant location is the ample parking available to clients and visitors not to mention the dining and shopping options that the area provides.
“We wanted to do things differently and did not want our firm to be typical in any way,” says DeGance, “I think that’s reflected even in the design of our building.”
A NEW PARADIGM
Courageously stepping outside the traditional corporate box, Alexander, DeGance and Barnett have embraced such ideas as encouraging the use of vision boards to inspire themselves and the entire team to reach for bigger and better goals; exploring the concept of sabbaticals to maintain a healthy work/life balance; and fiercely preserving one of the founding principles of the firm which is the ability to offer the flexibility of rapid response and varying fee structures.
“Being an attorney, as anyone knows, is an all-encompassing job and people can and do get burned out,” says Barnett.
“My partners and I recognize this and have determined that, given our strong alliance and trust in one another’s abilities, we can confidently take turns with extended leaves or sabbaticals.”
The flexible fee schedule is something that began in the early days of the new firm.
“We recognize we are in a service industry and that competition is fierce,” says DeGance. “We are fortunate, as a small boutique firm, to have the caliber of clients that we have, and we know that our excellent service, quality work product, and responsiveness have all contributed to our success. My clients know they can reach me anytime, that’s true of all of us. We own this, we’re not just collecting paychecks,” says DeGance. “At the same time, we recognize the importance of taking a break and, because of our collaborative model, we are able to do so while knowing that everything will continue running smoothly and nothing will fall through the cracks. I think everyone needs time to refresh and reboot.”
Ultimately, Alexander DeGance Barnett is a firm about people and relationships.
“We don’t take each other or our clients for granted,” says Alexander. “You have to re-earn trust every day.”