At the heart of anything significant, lasting or worthwhile stands a solid foundation. Derived from the character, aspirations and passions of those who collaborate to build it, a successful law firm begins with this principle; by first identifying and then instilling those values and establishing a sound philosophy upon which the partners, associates and staff can execute their vision.
When they joined forces about five years ago to form Campbell Guin LLC, founding partners Andy Campbell and Jay Guin were building on a long and substantial history of friendship and mutual respect. Classmates at the University of Alabama School of Law, both men finished at the top of their class and each established successful, highly respected practices in Alabama. While taking slightly different paths, Guin focusing on corporate taxation and Campbell building his practice on business and general commercial litigation, both men excelled, demonstrating the same commitment and integrity that ranked them as top graduates.
So it was a natural pairing when the two merged, creating a unique boutique firm with extensive reach both geographically and in their range of service. Representing clients from a diverse and broad spectrum of industries and business transactions, the transition was seamless due in large part to their shared philosophies in how a practice should be managed and the belief that clients are people not case numbers.
“Our underlying philosophy,” says Campbell, “is a passion for advocacy and being dedicated advocates for our clients, understanding their problems, whether it’s a corporate client or an individual. Basically, we’re ‘taking home’ those issues, so our clients don’t have to. We carry their problems with us 24/7, striving to come up with business solutions or litigation strategies that protect them.”
Small but Unique
“We are unusual for a mid-sized firm,” says Campbell, “in that we provide a full range of services from business litigation to corporate securities, as well as tax and estate planning. There aren’t many boutique firms in Alabama that engage in so many different areas. We also work in two different geographical areas with offices in Birmingham as well as Tuscaloosa, geared toward servicing clients in Alabama as well as those in other states.”
Another reason for the successful blending of the two practices into one, has to do with the longevity and loyalty of the people. Most of members of the firm have worked together for 15 to 20 years. And, according to Campbell, internally the firm runs like a family.
Campbell points to his own immediate staff as examples. His administrative assistant Janie Oden has been with him for 15 years, paralegal Susan Crew for 17 years, Office Manager Jennifer Irby for more than 15 years, and assistant Judy Tidwell 17 years.
“Our firm is like a family,” he says. “We are built on continuity and stability. We try to bring that to the table with our clients. I think our clients benefit because they know they are going to have stable, secure and very efficient representation, and we will be better prepared than opposing counsel. That is our hallmark – preparation and hard work to yield good results for our clients. If we have been out prepared in any case, we have failed.”
In addition to serving as the managing partner of the firm, Campbell also manages the litigation practice, which is primarily headquartered in the Birmingham office.
“We’re engaged in all types of business and corporate litigation including shareholder disputes, corporate and derivative securities litigation, class actions, trust and probate litigation, fraud, defamation, and breach of contract,” says Campbell. “One facet that makes us rather unique, is that we do a substantial amount of plaintiffs’ work as well as defense litigation.
“Years ago, when I started practicing in Birmingham, people spoke of a standard of great trial lawyers and litigators,” he adds. “Now, you’re referred to as a good defense or good plaintiff’s attorney. We strive to do both and have done both for many years. Many of our plaintiff clients are large or midsize companies, but we also enjoy representing individuals who have suffered economic loss from various transactions. Also, many of our clients who have the most vexing problems have little money or power to vindicate a wrong committed against them.”
This versatility has served Campbell Guin well, earning the firm a reputation for being able to tackle behemoth class action suits one day and a breach of contract or defamation case the next. In fact, the area of law frequently referred to as business divorce, comprises a substantial portion of the work this firm, and specifically Campbell’s litigation group, handle with regularity.
“Business divorce or shareholder disputes are accurate terms,” he says, “because they describe a situation where you have business partners or shareholders in a closely held company that develop conflicts and have differences over management philosophies, earnings or distribution of earnings. Generally, most of the disputes have at their core the division of capital. When that happens usually it results in one or more forms of litigation. And generally, what evolves in most cases, is essentially a business divorce. We are experienced and adept at handling those matters either by negotiations or litigation when necessary.
“Ironically, most of those types of disputes could be avoided if shareholders set forth a properly prepared contract at the outset using a formula for how a shareholder may be bought out. Unfortunately, just as most marriages do not begin with a pre-nuptial, most shareholders don’t plan on ‘breaking up’ or anticipate problems down the road, so they do not address these possibilities. We attempt to arrive at practical business solutions that are fair to both parties, both with respect to a division of equity, taxes, etc. It is interesting that we have had success bringing these cases in arbitration recently. Most arbitrators pursue a fair result and hold parties responsible for wrongdoing.”
Passion for the Profession
As the managing partner, Campbell believes in leading by example. For more than 30 years, passion has been his driving force; passion for the law, as well as preparation. “As lawyers we have to avoid simply being mechanics,” he says. “What we owe our clients, is a vision of how to reach a global solution if possible. Our strategic centerpiece is to find the best possible outcome, and this requires having a passion for the work and the desire to prepare to understand all aspects of the case and legal issues to provide the best possible outcome for your client.
“The law is not just a job or a profession,” he adds, “it’s something that you are truly committed to and passionate about. You have to be, because it’s 24/7 and if you don’t have that fire and passion for the work, you either won’t last or you won’t be successful, and your clients will not be well served. The heart of any case is the preparation and aggressive advocacy.”
As many lawyers know, this kind of commitment makes it difficult to maintain a balanced life. Giving so much to the law makes it challenging to find time for family, friends, hobbies and other activities.
“I try to lead by example in this case as well,” says Campbell. “If the younger attorneys see that yes, I’m still as passionate as I’ve always been and giving 100 percent to every client yet I’m still running 15 miles a week, hiking in the mountains, and taking time to enjoy my family, then they see they can do the same.
“One thing I do like to point out to young attorneys,” he adds, “is that in our work there is so much that we are not in control of – when the hearings will be, trial dates, how the judge or the jury will respond. So you have to take control of those things that are within your power – how you prepare and work for your clients as well as your health and your family time. When you’re engaged every day the way we are, you have to be very selective as free time is a commodity. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it can be done, and I think those who find this balance are among the happiest and most successful people I know.”
It’s a firm built on strong values of entrepreneurship, integrity, preparation, hard work, experience and most importantly passion. As new associates join the firm they work with others to build their own independence and legal specialization by following the examples of those who established the firm and have worked so hard to build it into the preeminent firm it is today.
“Communication is key within our firm,” says Campbell. “In order to build those lines of communication, you have to delegate, help people understand the mission and support the younger attorneys to help them take on those strong, decisive roles at an earlier age than perhaps they would at other firms. From that they develop independence and mature judgment.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to build on that foundation,” he adds. “That’s why we’re very selective in the people we engage. “We want our young attorneys to have intensity and a strong sense of passion for their work. That is as essential to handling a wide variety of legal matters as the writing and advocacy skills.”