Spokane Journal of Business

K&L Gates sets healthy growth pace at its Spokane office

Practice here has hired seven lawyers in past 18 months

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On the heels of a merger that substantially extended its firms global reach, the Spokane office of the multinational law firm K&L Gates says its been growing strongly in recent years, and expects to continue making steady gains in the Spokane market.

While the once-niche office here now offers a full array of legal services, its focusing particularly on its two fastest-growing specialtiescorporate transactions and intellectual-property litigationfor further growth. As part of a prominent global firm, the Spokane practice also now draws from a vast network of legal expertise to help fuel its growth, particularly as it faces heightening competition in an industry marked by big mergers and global expansions, says Todd Reuter, a Spokane partner in the firm.

The Spokane office currently has 17 attorneys and 40 total employees. It occupies a 13,000-square-foot space on the third floor of the Bank of Whitman building, at 618 W. Riverside downtown.

The practice here has added seven attorneys in the past 18 months, and plans to add another this fall, Reuter says. He expects the firm will continue hiring at a steady pace and it has options to lease the rest of the third floor in the building to accommodate its growth. He declines to disclose the offices annual billings.

Were open to adding people when the opportunity arises, and we have the resources and the space to do that, Reuter says. Were looking for lawyers who want to practice on a larger platform and whose clients need a larger platform.

The Spokane practice formerly was an office of Seattle-based Preston Gates & Ellis LP. It changed its name after the Seattle firm merged in early 2007 with New York-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP to become Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LP. The firm operates under the abbreviated name K&L Gates.

Earlier this year, K&L Gates merged with Dallas-based Hughes & Luce, which had 150 lawyers and three offices in Texas, Reuter says. Also within the last few months, the firm opened an office in Paris, giving it a total of 25 offices in North America, Europe, and Asia, and a total of roughly 1,600 attorneys, he says.

As both of those recent mergers were driven largely by the growing needs of the firms clients, so, too, have clients propelled the growth of the Spokane office, Reuter says. As Spokanes economy has grown, increasing numbers of businesses here have expanded both domestically and internationally, he says. As a result, theyre looking for law firms that have a presence in those markets, he asserts.

The complexion of the business community here has changed, Reuter says. We have clients here that are being acquired by and acquiring international companies. Those clients need a law firm that has access to other markets.

The Spokane office, which opened in 1980, formerly focused on municipal business and litigation, but has grown to become a full-service practice, due largely to the merger last year, he says. The rapid growth of its corporate transactions and intellectual-property litigation specialties is the result of an increased need among clients for those services that has led it to hire more attorneys who specialize in the niches.

Were handling matters in those areas for the biggest companies in the world, using lawyers in this office, Reuter says.

The Spokane offices other strong areas of expertise include financial-services law, employment litigation, wealth-management law, and taxation, he says. Its clients include Microsoft Corp., U.S. Bancorp., Northwest Pipeline Corp./Williams Gas, Northwest Farm Credit Services, Spokane International Airport, Spokane Transit Authority, Spokane Public Schools, and the cities of Coeur dAlene and Post Falls.

Benefits of mergerReuter, who has worked at the Spokane office since 1995, says one of the boosts the office got from the merger last year was increased access to lawyers around the world who have subspecialties, such as state taxation, that are beneficial to the firms clients here. The merger also has provided clients of the office here with access to a large public policy and lobbying practice the firm has in Washington D.C., he says.

Another major boon to the Spokane practice has been significantly more local autonomy as it relates to budgeting, hiring, and compensation, Reuter says. Thanks to technology such as e-mail and videoconferencing, the merger hasnt created additional layers of bureaucracy for the office, he asserts, adding that the overall firm has an executive committee on which Mike Ormsby, the Spokane practices administrative partner, currently sits.

Were a lawyer-managed firm, he says. The firm knows that were in so many markets that the local offices need to be able to make their own decisions.

In addition, the merger has provided attorneys at the Spokane office with more opportunities to work in other markets that the firm now serves, and to represent global clients that need legal services here, he says.

The ability to provide clients the services they need quickly and efficiently is vitally important in an increasingly competitive legal environment, Reuter says. Consolidations now are a routine practice among various industries around the globe. In response, law firms have increased their sizes, also largely through consolidation, to meet their clients needs, he says.

Law firms are trying to keep up with their clients, who need firms as big as they are, Reuter says. Client service is a challenge that law offices always face, because its a competitive environment and clients arent as determined to stay with their traditional longtime firms.

One strategy the firm has focused on as a way to gain an edge over the competition is its e-Discovery Analysis & Technology (e-DAT) group, he says. The process of discovery, which in legal terms means a formal, pre-trial process that allows one party to question other parties and force them to produce requested documents or other physical evidence, presents huge costs for clients, Reuter says. Since many documents now are in electronic form, new rules have emerged for the production and review of electronic documents, which results in even more legal fees for the client, he says.

The e-DAT group assists in the efficient review and production of electronic documents, using proprietary technology that helps streamline the process, he says. The firm started the group 12 years ago, and it has proven to be a huge value add, he says.

In addition to competition for clients, the office here also faces stiff competition for attorneys, particularly bright, young lawyers and lawyers who have significant client practices, Reuter says. He adds, though, that the law practice has been able to attract candidates who are attractive to us. Also, although K&L Gates is a multinational firm, the office here consists mainly of lawyers who are natives of Spokane or have spent much of their careers here, he says.

In such a competitive environment, most law firms must do more than depend on their clients growth to fuel their own, asserts Tom Bassett, a veteran Spokane attorney who joined the firm early last year. K&L Gates offices frequently send out bulletins to their clients that highlight hot topics or recent changes in their respective industries, such as laws passed by Congress or U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Bassett says. As part of those bulletins, the firm informs clients about pertinent services it offers.

Locally, the Spokane practice plans to hold a series of breakfast briefings at its office downtown on topics surrounding intellectual-property law, Bassett says. The first meeting in that series will be held April 24, he says.

Contact Emily Proffitt at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at emilyp@spokanejournal.com.

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