Parker Poe: Celebrating 50 Years of Legal Innovation

Parker Poe
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Parker Poe’s Managing Partner Tom Griffin and Raleigh office Managing Partner Kevin Chignell sliced into a cake modeled after the PNC Plaza building, where the office is located downtown. The occasion was a reception in January celebrating the firm’s 50 years in Raleigh, a city the firm and its leaders have a rich history in growing.

The firm’s future growth will continue as it has for years based on a two-fold strategy – maintain and build existing clients and their businesses and expand the firm’s practice areas to meet those needs. “We are involved in a lot of activities to attract businesses to both North and South Carolina to make sure that as the area grows, we grow the market as well,” said Chignell.

In 1965 when former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford opened the firm of Sanford & Cannon in Raleigh, the state’s economy revolved around agriculture and manufacturing. Th e firm did a lot of complex commercial litigation related to those industries as well as lobbying the state government. In 1990, the firm, then named Adams, McCullough & Beard, merged with Charlotte-based Parker Poe Thompson Bernstein Gage & Preston which later became Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP.

Today, the firm is enhancing and adding practice areas consistent with the evolution of the Triangle economy in life sciences, energy, financial services, real estate, government, manufacturing and health care.

“Th e face of Raleigh has changed in the last 10-25 years and as Raleigh and downtown develops, we want to develop with it and make sure we are attracting the kinds of people and jobs to downtown that will help us continue to grow too,” said Chignell, pointing to Citrix and Red Hat as examples.

“I am proud to be part of the firm’s growth,” adds Nicholle Allen-Steele, a 17- year attorney with Parker Poe who works in the real estate and commercial development, financial services, and commercial contracts practice groups.

“We’re helping to reshape key parts of the city,” added attorney Jamie Schwedler whose practice includes real estate, land use and zoning. “Th ere is a lot of reuse or infill development happening now where old lots, especially in the warehouse district are being rehabbed into breweries and retail stores and we’re helping our clients take advantage of those opportunities.”

Parker Poe represented the city of Durham in the development of the American Tobacco complex and is now assisting local governments and research universities in bringing super high speed Internet service to the Triangle. Th e firm is playing a role in downtown projects such as the redevelopment of Moore Square as well as commercial and residential development in the fast-growing suburbs. “Th ere’s no question that if we are on some of the bigger public-private projects, it enhances our image and ability to get additional business,” said Charles Meeker, Parker Poe attorney and Raleigh’s former mayor.

Firm Culture

Parker Poe attorney Catharine Arrowood describes the culture as “progressive” recognizing that the firm’s attorneys have talent and skills in many distinct areas. “Th e world of clients out there is extremely diverse and it’s important to off er varied representation to serve that diverse clientele,” said Arrowood who joined the firm in 1977 as its first female lawyer. She also became the first woman named to the firm’s management committee in 1990.

Diversity also resonates with millennials who comprise the firm’s crop of what Meeker describes as “home grown.” “We value our home grown lawyers who are trained here, have our same values as they have grown with the firm, and they are extremely loyal, since they worked so hard to get up through the ranks.”

“When I joined the firm in the mid-70s, it was informal and relaxed with no formal working hours per se. We did what we needed to do without a lot of rules,” Meeker continued. Th at notion has remained a key tenet of the firm’s culture. In fact, Meeker was wearing purple and pink socks the day of our interview, confirming that businesscasual attire and a relaxed environment are part of the firm’s corporate culture.

Cool Office Space

Parker Poe’s new office in the heart of downtown Raleigh opened in the PNC Building in 2015. Open and airy hallways with floor-to-ceiling windows, free-form sculpture and abstract art create the impression of a museum of modern art. Noted for its award-winning design, Parker Poe’s Raleigh office was recently named one of the “Coolest Office Spaces in Raleigh” by the Triangle Business Journal.

Kevin Chignell was instrumental in working with architects on the design for “a firm that is much less focused on hierarchy and corner offices and the typical trappings of law firms of the past. By stripping away as much hierarchy as we can, we are more focused on collaboration,” he said. “We think that’s more consistent with a forward-thinking attitude of trying to attract additional clients that are more focused on matters such as technology, life sciences and pharmaceuticals.”

“Our office space is designed to be open and accessible to one another. I can easily go two doors down and bounce an idea off my colleague. It is easy to collaborate; we don’t feel shut off from one another,” said Allen-Steele. “Th e Parker Poe culture endorses its collective pool of resources who come together on a regular basis.”

Attorney Jamie Schwedler agrees, “Collaboration is engrained in the office allowing us to work with any attorney at any time. We find efficient, aff ordable answers to issues because we have collaborative people that have great relationships.”

“Six collaboration corners are scattered around the office’s two floors, each with a high-top table, half a dozen tall chairs and lots of windows … to make sure people have places where they can come together and work as a team toward the same goals for the client,” said Chignell. “Th e most dangerous thing about being a lawyer is doing everything yourself because you don’t get the perspective of others and you don’t get the input that can help determine the proper strategy or move in a given case. When you get perspectives from different lawyers with various levels of experience from diff erent backgrounds, you get better results, more creativity and more loyalty from clients,” he added.

“Th ere is strength in having differences,” added Arrowood. “When you have a team of lawyers that has diverse points of view, you come up with much better solutions for your clients.”

Looking Ahead

“We have a lot of good things going on in North Carolina as it relates to renewable energy and that is a significant emphasis for the firm. Life sciences has taken off and I think that it’s very important for us to stay on the cutting edge of attracting the right kinds of clients and the right kinds of lawyers to serve those clients so we can anticipate the issues they will be facing in the future,” said Chignell.

“Over the next 10 years, I think our firm will be more actively involved with governmental entities in terms of finance and litigation and transportation which will look very diff erent with an extensive bus service and commuter rail,” said Meeker. “You’re going to see practice areas similar to what you see in the big cities because you’re going to have those kinds of businesses headquartered here. I would expect in five or 10 years, this office will double in size and will prosper along with the area.”

“Companies that have provided a steady stream of litigation and deal work for law firms like ours are now doing much of that work in-house. So law firms are going to have to change the way they do business to survive,” said Arrowood. “At Parker Poe, technology is the leading edge and the most important aspect that will change the future. Law firms will be left behind if they don’t advance technology.”

Along these lines and as the firm progresses, one of the key concerns in the legal field is cybersecurity. Parker Poe incorporates a continual process improvement approach for enhancing information and physical security. “Being a good steward of clients’ information is of the utmost responsibilities. As such, our security program is constantly being reviewed and enhanced,” said Skip Lohmeyer, chief information officer of the firm.

“We recognize that there is an incredible amount of flexibility in the industry and client base. Our work ethic is important where we work hard, develop good relationships with clients, and produce work quickly while staying abreast and knowledgeable about the industry,” said Schwedler. “We are learning how to share knowledge in a variety of methods to make all people successful.”

“I do believe that there will always be a place for the trusted outside counselor,” said Arrowood.” Th e whole process of American justice starts with the right to have an attorney; that is a bedrock piece of how our democracy works.”

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