Going West: Witherspoon Kelley expands to keep up with demand
~September 23rd, 2021
A Spokane law firm older than the state of Washington is experiencing a growth spurt with a recent acquisition.
Christopher Varallo, president of Spokane-based Witherspoon Kelley, says the acquisition of Yakima-based Lyon, Weigand & Gustafson PS represents the firm’s desire to serve more of the Inland Northwest.
“We see ourselves as a great alternative to hiring Seattle firms,” Varallo says. “If you have companies that are headquartered in central Washington, it’s nice to have an office that we can serve them directly out of.”
That strategy has worked well for serving North Idaho from the Coeur d’Alene office, he says.
Witherspoon Kelley is headquartered on the 11th floor of the U.S. Bank Building, at 422 W. Riverside, in downtown Spokane. The firm established its Coeur d’Alene office, at 608 Northwest Boulevard, in the 1980s.
Witherspoon Kelley topped the Journal’s Largest Law Firms list, published March 25. That list ranks firms by the number of attorneys in Spokane and Kootenai counties.
With the Sept. 1 acquisition of Lyon, Weigand & Gustafson, Witherspoon Kelley now has about 100 employees, including 48 attorneys, throughout its three offices. Of those, 36 attorneys and 35 support staff are in the Spokane office.
Varallo says the acquisition will help Witherspoon Kelley keep up with demand for services.
“We had noticed that our clients are growing, the economy is really growing, and people need more law work, especially in the central part of Washington--in agriculture, finance, that kind of work,” Varallo says. “It fit perfectly with what we do.”
Varallo declines to discuss company revenue or terms of the Lyon, Weigand & Gustafson acquisition.
“We were impacted by the shutdown, especially with litigation -- you couldn’t have trials, there was nothing in person,” he says. “But as that opens back up, that’s busy. Real estate and corporate work are pretty busy as well.”
Witherspoon Kelley was established here in 1884 -- five years before Washington was granted statehood.
“It was founded on the economy of the time--mining, construction, those types of industries,” Varallo says. “We worked with those kinds of businesses for a long time when Spokane was first formed.”
Since its formation, Witherspoon Kelley’s focus areas have shifted to include banking, taxation, and health care, he says. However, other than establishing the Coeur d’Alene office in 1987, the firm has remained conservative in its geographical growth.
“As you can tell from two acquisitions in 40 years … we do things thoughtfully, and with an eye to the future and sustainability,” Varallo says.
Witherspoon Kelley is continuing to hire new staff and attorneys, a task that Varallo says is an ongoing struggle as the firm faces increasing demand for services.
“Coming out of the pandemic, hiring and retaining lawyers is a bit of a challenge,” Varallo says. “So, attracting and retaining new talent to the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area is our No. 1 priority right now.”
Typically, the firm aims to hire about three new attorneys each year, but that can vary depending on how robust the firm’s workload is and how many older attorneys are retiring from the firm in a given year.
“There has been a bit of a shift in that some of the more senior lawyers have started retiring, and they’re transitioning out of active practice,” he says. “We’re not trying to hit a certain number of lawyers, we’re not trying to hit a certain number of employees, we’re just growing to keep up with the demand of our clients.”
Demand for legal services has increased with the population growth of the area, he says.
“As more people and more businesses move to the area, you have an increased demand for the business services that we can provide,” Varallo says.
Varallo says that Witherspoon Kelley has a multigenerational workforce, which helps the firm to serve a wider variety of clients.
“We have active lawyers practicing full-time who are in their late 60s or early 70s, and new lawyers coming out of law school who are 26, and we’re all working together,” Varallo says. “We work hard to keep communication lines open between all generations.”
Witherspoon Kelley also has been working in recent years to implement more tools and policies to make the firm more diverse and inclusive. Rick Mount, principal at Witherspoon Kelley, currently sits on the board of the Washington Initiative for Diversity.
“It’s a nonprofit 501(c)3 that is solely designed to work with the legal profession in creating diversity,” Mount says. “We’ve got a pretty good diverse group of people. There’s a few of us who work in law firms, and what we try to do is provide summits and trainings.”
Varallo says the firm also recently created a diversity and inclusion statement on its website.
“We recognize the changing legal framework and that we need to bring ourselves better in harmony with the diversity and inclusivity that our clients and the community need and desire,” Varallo says.