“We are not stiffs. We will get dirty to understand something up close, rather than at a distance,” said Ortiz & Schick partner, John-Paul Schick. “We’ve been involved enough in the field to be able to relate to our clients.”
Schick and partners Michael Ortiz and Heather Connor, along with attorneys Sean Doyle and Melinda Hemphill, work with developers, commercial landlords and tenants, general contractors and other industry professionals on matters involving business law, bonding and surety law, commercial real estate law and construction law. The firm handles transactions and disputes including litigation and arbitration.
Their clients are involved with the construction, development and management of multifamily units, office buildings, retail space, restaurants, and even museums and breweries.
Trust is a Big Thing
“Clients have got to know that you understand their business,” Ortiz said. “If you can relate to your client, it makes for a better longterm working relationship. I have clients that go back with me to 1990. Very few of our clients are one and dones.”
The business model at Ortiz & Schick is based on being able to take clients from business formation, through the start of a project to leasing, construction, launching the actual business and then assisting with the clients’ operational needs. Many times their work includes adding additional space, locations or new projects.
“We get to know the client on a personal level, provide excellent legal work, and above else, are accessible and responsive. Who we are as people and the way we work as professionals ensures that our relationships are built to last,” said Ortiz.
“Trust is a big thing,” added partner Connor.
“A lot of our clients are small or medium size businesses that come across all kinds of issues through their lifecycles,” said Schick. The attorneys at Ortiz & Schick have a broad spectrum of skill sets.
“Some of our clients have more than 200 properties across 14 states. We become involved in whatever legal issues they face, from slip and fall cases to construction issues and fair housing claims,” said Ortiz.
When Ortiz & Schick’s clients enter their comfortable Raleigh office, they often come straight from the construction site, wearing their boots, with a set of plans rolled up under their arms. They are greeted by casually demeanored attorneys. While professional, the feel in the office is informal and familial.
“Our style is somewhat disarming, and that allows us to relate to clients,” Schick said. “They get a sense that we are just like them. We want to get to know them and their situation and help them out.”
“Being an attorney is my day job,” said Schick, an ’80s hair band fanatic, as he proudly showed off his Mötley Crüe cellphone cover. He recently took his two young sons to see the band in concert.
Ortiz spends his free time restoring old cars – his current project is a 1927 Franklin. He also just re-built a railroad crossing with lights and a bell that he operates with a key fob.
Connor’s eyes lit up as she talked about her art collection and her love of reading about historical England. In fact, she named her daughter Elizabeth. She shared tales of visiting the Tower of London while in town to conduct depositions, seeing the place where so many interesting events had occurred.
Nuts and Bolts
Ortiz, Schick and Connor all shared stories of climbing under, over or through construction projects.
“We want to get down to the nuts and bolts, literally,” said Ortiz, who recalled a recent meeting in a conference room with numerous attorneys and parties who were working on a development project. “The general contractor said of everyone in the room, he respected me because I was the only attorney to crawl under the houses and see how the crawl space looked.
“It was 102 degrees that day,” Ortiz laughed.
Ortiz earned his Juris Doctor at University of Illinois College of Law. Schick earned his at UNC-Chapel Hill. They worked together at a mid-size law firm in Durham until 2006 when they launched Ortiz & Schick. Connor, who earned her Juris Doctor at Wake Forest University School of Law, was an associate at the firm when it was launched and became partner in 2010.
Time is Money
“Time is definitely money on a construction project,” said Schick.
“I pick up the phone as soon as it rings because the person on the other end would not call an attorney unless they had a problem,” Ortiz said. “They are calling for a reason.”
“When a utility contractor wrongly filed a lien on our developer client’s construction project, our client’s bank stopped advancing funds for the project. That brought the project to a halt. Our client called us and we got the project back on track within a day,” recalled Schick.
Before and during the recession, some contractors and developers tried to save money by avoiding getting contracts and agreements reviewed by an attorney before a project started. They would only bring in an attorney when a dispute occurred.
Attitudes have somewhat changed post-recession.
“I love the client who says ‘I’d rather pay you X now than 10 times that amount later. Hopefully after I pay you X now, I will not need you again’,” said Schick. “For some folks it’s necessary to help them understand that good legal advice up front pays tremendous dividends down the road. Some clients are not thinking about their exposure.
“I’ve got a guy who owns a couple of pizza restaurants and he’s expanding,” Schick continued. “He will tell you, ‘I know how to make pizzas, I know how to run a restaurant, but I don’t know squat about leases or assignments,’ and so he’s willing to let me do that.”
“Over the years, our clients have learned to come to us and spend the money on the front end. It’s a great value to them for us to draft and negotiate contracts they didn’t just find on the Internet,” Connor said. “We can think about their specific business and their needs and their relationships and craft provisions that are based on the issues and disputes that we can foresee based on our experience.”
The firm also preaches its “built to last” and “think long-term” philosophies to its clients. “We tell contractors not to burn bridges, if at all possible,” said Ortiz.
“We’re trying to solve a problem when we get into a dispute. It’s a collaborative process. It doesn’t have to be head-to-head combat,” said Connor.
“Most of the contractors I work with tell me they don’t want to file a lien because they want to be able to work with the other party again in the future,” Connor said. “There’s a bigger picture that you miss when you take a scorched earth policy, and that’s maintaining relationships and making sure your client is going to be successful in the future.”