“We help Davids slay Goliaths of industry and government, and we also help Goliaths go toe to toe with other Goliaths. We represent foreign countries, businesses and individuals on cases with millions at stake, and at the same time, we help the widow(er), the elderly, the average Jane and Joe, the small business, the large business and everything in between.” – Charlie Davis, Founder
To understand Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, you must not think like a lawyer. This firm is what happens when truly entrepreneurial lawyers come together to form “the only law firm you will ever need.”
During the internet boom, Charlie Davis, while conducting his very successful real estate and transactions law practice in the Phoenix East Valley, became convinced the internet was part of the future of law, as well as a future transformational force for business. He started the company law.com in 1998.
The site quickly took off as a legal information portal, and 21 years after he founded it (selling it to a private equity firm along the way), it is still one of the most robust websites for legal information on the internet. He also founded scrapbook.com, which today is still held by Charlie and his family and is a highly popular international scrapbooking business, based in Mesa. This is not the typical path of a law firm founder.
Greg Miles started his law career as a clerk in the Arizona Court of Appeals. He went on to build a successful practice in real estate litigation and title defense work. He also represents medical professionals before administrative boards. In addition to his varied practice, Greg is a careful student of business and civic leadership.
Greg treats his law practice as any other type of business: he makes sure he takes care of both his clients and his employees. The approach makes for a sustainable law firm … because the underlying business is successful. Not all lawyers recognize the importance of maintaining a practice as a business. Because of his business ethic, Greg has never had a lack of clients.
In 2002 Davis and Miles had a novel idea. Their desire was to create a unique law firm that would not only provide outstanding and sophisticated legal services to businesses and individuals, but also have as its mission to improve the lives of clients by access to the law.
They merged their law practices and formed Davis Miles, PLLC. With 50+ years of combined legal experience, the new firm quickly gained a reputation for legal excellence.
This reputation caught the eye of the corporate giant LegalShield (formerly known as Pre-Paid Legal Services). The access to justice provided by LegalShield was in line with the firm’s mission, and Davis Miles became the provider firm for Arizona in March 2004 and New Mexico in August 2006.
To broaden its offerings in debt restructuring, bankruptcy and family law, Davis Miles joined forces with McGuire Gardner in 2011. The firm name changed to Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, PLLC in 2012. The firm has been on a growth trajectory ever since, and in 2018 it had its strongest financial year in its history.
SECRETS OF SUCCESS: VALUES, VISION, AND A BUSINESS MINDSET
Managing Partner Pernell McGuire has training as an accountant. He leads the state’s top-ranked bankruptcy practice, and is certified by the Arizona Bar as a specialist. Competition, goals, accountability … all are in his blood.
You can find Pernell at 5:30 am starting every day either on the basketball court or hitting the weights pushing to improve himself. Pernell leads the firm with the compassion and empathy you’d expect from a bankruptcy lawyer, and the precise understanding of finance you would also expect. Under his leadership, the firm has doubled its revenues and grown to become the 6th largest firm in the valley.
Name partner Douglas Gardner has an MBA, applying business principles to his top-10 ranked divorce practice. As successful as Douglas has been as a divorce attorney, he has spent ample amounts of time helping people improve their relationships. He has a book in the works on the subject.
Both Gardner and McGuire are certified specialists in their legal fields. They also devote a lot of time working on culture.
When you see the firm’s Mission and Values painted in huge letters on the wall of its offices in Tempe Town Lakes, you realize this is not your typical law firm. Words like accountability, integrity, and teamwork point to Davis Miles McGuire Gardner’s mission statement which proclaims their commitment to providing solutions and creating relationships to improve the lives of clients, employees, and the community.
Today the firm is ranked among the leading large law firms in Arizona, with eleven of its practices ranked in the top ten in Arizona according to Ranking Arizona.
“We strive to live our values,” says McGuire. “It is one thing for a firm to try and articulate what it stands for. It is obviously a much larger challenge to intentionally and deliberately operate, recruit and plan according to those values. We say, ‘family first’ and we mean it. We say, ‘improve lives’ and we mean it.”
Part of the business mindset is an attorney compensation plan that rewards lawyers with more of a share of the revenue they generate. The firm also rewards lawyers for referring work to one another. That has made it an attractive spot for lateral partners. “This has been a tremendous fit for our practice,” says immigration partner Jared Leung, who joined the firm from a storied down-town firm. “We feel valued by not just the managing partner. All other practice group leaders treat us as an integral part of the firm.
“This level of collaboration is so rare in law firms with multiple areas of practice, where different groups often exist in separate silos,” says Leung.
For next generation lawyers, the firm focuses on mentoring and providing young lawyers a chance to spread their wings and gain real-world experience while being guided and provided help.
“I have always had great coaching here,” says David Williams, a litigation partner who has been at the firm for more than nine years and today is the head of its Litigation Department.
Brittney Walsh, one of the firm’s newest lawyers, puts it this way, “As a brand-new attorney, I was thrilled to receive an offer here. This firm allows me to live according to my values and encourages healthy living and balance. The mentorship program enables me to flex my skills and flourish as an attorney under careful guidance. I think the firm is an example for other medium-to-large firms to follow in order to retain employees and avoid burnout in new associates.”
Mike Ferrin, who runs the firm’s transactional department, moved his practice to Davis Miles McGuire Gardner seven years ago. As an attorney who makes a living helping business people plan their futures so they can live the life they want, Ferrin says the firm helps him live the life he chooses, too.
“I love the culture of this firm,” he says. “I can service my clients with a full range of services they need…often provided by my colleagues, but I don’t have to put up with the big firm pressures or politics. And, I get to live the lifestyle I choose.”
Ferrin adds that he feels a very close friendship with the lawyers on his team, even though practices range from sophisticated asset protection and corporate work, to product liability and plaintiff ’s personal injury. What’s more, Ferrin loves when his transactions team stands toe to toe with any law firm in the state on large transactions. “We represent some of the largest companies doing business in Arizona, and do very sophisticated transactions. To get to do that and have this culture…that is a winning combination.”
ACCESS TO JUSTICE – NOT JUST LIP SERVICE – AN ENTIRE BUSINESS UNIT
The pivotal choice in 2004 to become the law firm in support of LegalShield was monumental for the firm. For some of Davis Miles McGuire Gardner’s competitors, it was misunderstood at the time. How can a firm balance a sophisticated transactional and litigation practice serving leading businesses and high-net-worth individuals, while at the same time providing access to justice for tens of thousands of Arizonans (and now residents of New Mexico as well) who might not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer?
What the firm built over the past 15 years is nothing short of a miracle. In an era where every law firm now recognizes the vital role it can play in providing access to justice – largely through firm organized pro-bono efforts – Davis Miles McGuire Gardner serves tens of thousands of clients a year with a wide range of legal services.
It has developed a call center to improve its service delivery and its lawyers and support team are measured by a Net Promoter Score to see how well they do in serving clients. Few firms serve so many clients in such an organized way. The firm seamlessly walks clients through legal issues, and has the bandwidth to escalate and expand services if needed.
“It was a unique challenge to build a system that could provide easy access to legal services to LegalShield’s nearly 50,000 members in two states,” says Ron Jones, who oversees the operation from the firm’s Mesa office. Members purchase a membership which serves as a form of insurance – enabling them to access legal advice typically for a fraction of the cost of a traditional arrangement.
‘It’s so gratifying,” says Jones. “We have lawyers here who have been Wall Street dealmakers, or at the upper echelons of government agencies. Today, they line up in the corner of the little gal or guy to level the playing field and help that client get the affordable legal representation they need,” he says.
According to Davis, the vision has always been about access. “When I purchased the domain name law.com in the late 90s and launched the company, our idea was freedom through the law. If you don’t have access to the law, your freedoms are limited.
Some people make the mistake of thinking you can’t have a law firm that does a $30 million dollar merger – we did one last month – or a $350 million dollar estate plan…that also helps a grandmother draft a will. It can be done, and profitably. We do it every day—with an amazing system and group of gift ed lawyers and staff.
We help Davids slay Goliaths of industry and government, and we also help Goliaths go toe to toe with other Goliaths. We represent foreign countries, businesses, and individuals on cases with millions at stake, and at the same time, we help the widow(er), the elderly, the average Jane and Joe, the small business, the large business and everything in between. They all need access to the law to protect themselves, enhance their lives and solve problems they can’t solve themselves.”
GO EAST (VALLEY) YOUNG WOMAN AND MAN!
The firm is the largest law firm in the Phoenix East Valley with offices in Tempe and Mesa. While it is very focused on its thriving offices in Flagstaff, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City, the firm’s leadership recognizes the unique opportunity it has to exploit its size advantage in one of the fastest growing areas of the country.
“Projections estimate there will be nearly 1 million new residents and more than 400,000 new jobs in the next 30 years in the area,” says litigation partner Scott Gibson, who serves on the Board of the Phoenix East Valley Partnership. “That means more businesses needing representation in employment law matters, more companies concerned about intellectual property and restrictive covenants, and more residents who start businesses, need estate planning, asset protection and elder care.”
If you’ve seen a Davis Miles McGuire Gardner Billboard on the I-10 or the 202, you’ve gotten the message: “Your East Valley Law Firm.” That message will soon be in playbills throughout performing arts centers in the East Valley and in support of important business organizations, such as the East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Gibson, who chairs the firm’s marketing committee, says a key plank in the firm’s marketing plan is its East Valley message.
With a majority of its Arizona lawyers living in the East Valley, McGuire says the firm is a perfect fit for the area’s clientele and is ripe for expansion. “There are a number of talented lawyers who live in the East Valley who drive by our billboards or our offices every day on their way to some distant location like downtown. Our message to them is, “You can probably make more money, serve your clients just as well if not better, and be home an extra hour or so with your family every night,” he says.
MAYBE THE ONLY LAW FIRM YOU’LL EVER NEED…AS A CLIENT, AS A LAWYER AND AS A STAFF MEMBER
“There is a certain kind of attitude we look for in the lawyers who join us,” says partner John Skabelund, who helps recruit new lawyers to the firm. “Our recruiting literature literally says…we are not for everyone, no egos. Maintaining our friendly work culture is paramount. The DMMG difference is real. I think it starts with that.”
Partner Alan Soelberg, who was a successful in-house legal and business executive before joining the firm agrees. But he also says it’s a firm that fosters individual growth and supports different approaches to practice… rather than imposing a dominant culture on practitioners. “If there is one thing I can say about the firm … it’s that it lets me be the best version of me as a lawyer I can be. That results in better outcomes for my clients and for my family. I feel free to practice how I need to.”
Associate Emma Chalverus adds that attitude is not just for partners coming in, but for new lawyers developing a practice. “I focus on management- side employment law issues for companies of all sizes. The firm and my colleagues go out of their way to help me do that. I have access to support, and I have a lot of freedom.”
COO Jackie McAferty has been with the firm for 17 years and believes strongly in the values that are promoted. When it comes to working with the firm she says, “When people ask me what I like best about working at the firm it is easy for me to answer. I love the people that work here! We have a team of people that own their work and are always looking for ways to do better work and help others. When I ask anyone at the firm for help, even if they are super busy, their answer is ‘I’ll be happy to’ and they mean it.” With hardworking employees and attorneys Davis Miles McGuire Gardner is a versatile team that works together to grant clients not only access to the law but the freedom that comes with it.
McGuire points out that this single law firm can help a small business get started, get passed down through generations, and help its owners protect their assets and plan their estate – while also being able to help provide elder law counsel, bankruptcy advice and family and criminal law. It is quite possibly the only law firm an Arizona, New Mexico or Utah resident would ever need.
He says, “If you look at our clients… we can help improve their lives on such a broad range. If you look at our lawyers and staff, they have found a unique culture that they probably get to experience once in a career. It’s a culture we’ve carefully cultivated. So I guess for clients, attorneys and our staff, we really are the only firm they’ll ever need.”
For clients, lawyers and staff, it seems Davis’ initial vision for his legal career two decades ago is playing out: a little more freedom … through the law.