When Barnes & Thornburg decided to open an office in Raleigh, it came in heavy. “The firm would like to see us with a full-service offering and get to between at least 25 and 30 lawyers. I’m sure they’d rather have us do it sooner rather than later. But at the same time, they want us to hire the right people,” said Raleigh Managing Partner Allen Baum.
The firm leased a large space in the CapTrust building, as North Hills is ground zero for corporate growth in the region for the foreseeable future.
Raleigh is one of 19 offices across the country with more than 700 legal professionals in 50 practices. The firm represents 140 of the Fortune 500.
‘We Want to Be Here’
“Raleigh is an important part of the firm’s strategic growth plan,” said Baum. “When firm management from Indianapolis, Chicago and Dallas visited Raleigh to talk to me about joining the firm, they said, ‘You don’t have to sell us on Raleigh; we already know we want to be here.’
“We’ve got this great concentration of industry, university, science and technology,” Baum added. “Not to mention, the level of education in the Raleigh area, the continuous growth and prosperity. It’s one of the few areas in the country that investment never really stopped throughout the financial crisis.”
The firm opened its Raleigh office in November 2019 with nine attorneys and paralegals and has grown the team to 13 by adding an additional attorney and support staff. The original team of nine came to Barnes & Thornburg from a national IP boutique. Intellectual property is a sweet spot for the entire firm, with 120 lawyers in the practice area nationwide.
The Raleigh attorneys lean toward life sciences, biotech and pharma and work with agri-business and brand companies innovating rather than generic drug manufacturers.
“The firm strategically wanted to start with an IP group here. And we satisfied that. Next, the firm wants this office to move into corporate, litigation, health care, and private services like wealth management,” said Baum. Frankly, we’d take a look at any complimentary practice area where a strong business case exists. I’d like to have somebody to round out our capabilities on the electrical/software/mechanical side of the IP practice as well.”
Completing Lateral Passes
While some law firms grow “organically” and others grow through mergers and acquisitions, Barnes & Thornburg’s business model is built on bringing in laterals.
“Primarily, we are looking for lateral partners with at least enough work to keep themselves busy. Groups would be nice too. The most important thing is that it’s a good cultural fit, and then there is a good business case to be made,” said Baum.
The firm is looking for partners up to very senior partners. Age is not a factor. The firm offers partners a larger and better platform to continue to grow.
“Another factor that makes it a great firm is that about half of the firm management committee comprises lateral partners with representation from all offices. The result is 13-plus years of continuous growth,” said Baum
In 2020, 62 attorneys, including 30 partners, lateraled in despite the pandemic, and the firm enjoys a five-year partner retention rate of 85%.
“The firm is all about growth, maintaining low overhead and high profitability in the delivery of top-notch legal services,” said Baum.
“Lateral partners come to us with an established book of business that they can grow significantly on our platform. We are typically able to pay those lawyers significantly better than other similarly situated firms because most all our back-office functions are housed in Indianapolis, where the costs are lower.
“We were also one of the first firms to develop a legal operations department to help manage the financial relationship with clients to meet their spend objectives,” he added. “This is where a lot of firms fall down. We’ve figured out how to manage projects, keep them on budget and on time. We also have significant financial incentives in place to encourage cross-selling and keep people working as a team.”
A Bigger Fish Pond
The firm says part of the business case for bringing on individuals or small groups is the ability to fish from a bigger pond of clients. “The nice thing about being in a full-service firm like ours is that we can handle pretty much whatever comes up. We pull in people that are very good in that particular area,” said Baum.
Amy Fix was part of the group from a boutique IP firm that joined the firm’s Raleigh office in 2019. “A lot of our motivation to join Barnes & Thornburg was client potential,” she said. “One primary advantage of a general practice firm over a boutique firm is readily available expertise in other practice groups. We just wrapped up a project where we had the ability to call on our corporate colleagues in Indianapolis and get them to quickly assist a client in a relatively complex diligence project involving a very large number of third-party agreements, each with its own set of rights and obligations.”
“Having the resources of Barnes & Thornburg’s platform as a full-service business law firm allows us to offer legal services from a wide range of practice areas for businesses in many different industries,” she continued.
With adding laterals as its MO for growth, the firm has a series of programs and a team to help inculcate new attorneys with, before COVID-19, trips to other Barnes & Thornburg offices specifically to meet cohorts.
Diversity and Inclusion
Action for racial justice is the core of the firm’s diversity initiative. Raleigh attorney Aisha Hasan is part of the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “I think the legal industry, especially law firms, are waking up to the importance of diversity and inclusion,” said Hasan. “I think the firm’s platform takes diversity, equity, and inclusion very seriously. There are a very strong diversity and inclusion program here that begins at the top and comes down to every individual in the offices.”
“It’s a hard-working partnership. There’s fairness. Transparency. The firm was primarily started in the Midwest. As a result, it has a Midwest sensibility,” said Baum. “It’s a true meritocracy, and compensation is strictly tied to performance, not how long you have been around.”
“It is an exciting place to be for those with demonstrated business development capabilities, particularly in Raleigh, where we are looking to build out a full-service offering with lots of opportunity for growth,” he finished.
For more information, visit ww.btlaw.com.