Warner Norcross & Judd Managing Partner Douglas Wagner recently talked with Michigan Lawyers Weekly for its annual Largest Law Firms issue. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
Q: As one of the law firms that has maintained steady growth, how would you sum up 2010?
A: It was a very interesting year, and certainly different than what we have been accustomed to. On a year-over-year basis, we held fairly steady. Things picked up quite a bit in the last quarter of 2010, with M&A, real estate and commercial lending all starting to pick up as practice areas. This year is off to a good start, and we are much more optimistic about the economy.
Despite all that is happening in the world and the uncertainty brought on by the political changes in Lansing, we see that our clients have more confidence and higher expectations for the future. They have stronger cash reserves and are hiring new people. Consumer confidence is strong.
Michigan remains a focal point for automakers and their suppliers. A recent study showed that more than 70 percent of the cars sold in North America were made in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. Michigan is one of the prime locations for auto suppliers, which is part of the reason Warner Norcross has made such a strong commitment to Detroit.
Q: What were your strongest practice areas in 2010? What areas were weak?
A: Litigation was by far our strongest practice area last year. Additionally, we saw strong demand for IP, which was up 25 percent last year and continuing to grow. Additionally, health care increased, as did labor and employment. Financial services remained busy, with many of our attorneys involved in loan workouts and related areas. Employee benefits was also a strong area, while trusts and estates was up slightly.
On the level side, environmental law stayed pretty steady for us. Real estate was down last year, as was general business. While M&A work was lower during much of the year, it began to rebound at the end of 2010. We are seeing a lot of interest in M&A as the economy starts to rebound.
Q: As a firm, did you have to cut back sponsorships, employee benefits, etc. in order to cope?
A: While other firms eliminated attorney and staff positions or trimmed benefits, Warner Norcross did not. Since 2005, we have added 61 new attorneys – 14 in the last 15 months, in fact. Additionally, we have maintained our support and sponsorships of arts organizations, community events and nonprofits. Internally, we continue to do what we have always done – maintained our employee benefits package, held parties to celebrate holidays and given bonuses. We have really heard from our staff how deeply felt and much appreciated this has been.
Q: What is the overall lesson you learned from 2010?
A: One thing stands out as being the most important lesson: We need to listen carefully to our clients. The world has changed, and as a law firm, we have to be able to adapt. We need to practice differently. I am convinced that our clients want to do some things differently.