Campbell & Bissell law firm value relationships over volume
Former Marines mentor new attorneys at practiceSeptember 23rd, 2021
Attorneys Richard Campbell and Mike Bissell started Campbell & Bissell PLLC with just three employees, including themselves, in 2005. The 16-year-old construction law firm has grown to nine employees, including six attorneys, as of this summer.
However, Campbell says the firm’s size matters less than the relationships they’ve developed with their clients, some of which have been with the firm from the beginning.
“We haven’t focused on size as much as it’s been more client relationships and helping our clients succeed,” adds Campbell.
Their current office is located at 820 W. Seventh, in the historic Corbet-Aspray House, on the lower South Hill in a property surrounded by florals, trees, and green grass.
They purchased the former mansion through their company CamBiss Ventures LLC and began renovating it in 2013.
Bissell admits that taking care of an older building is ongoing work. However, improvements to the historic building have been mostly completed.
The attorneys say they don’t have a motto or mission statement for the firm but describe a work philosophy as one that adds value to their clients. Those clients are primarily companies in the construction industry including general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers, with a limited number of architects and engineers.
The attorneys say they welcome new clients. Campbell adds, however, “We’re always looking to add the right clients but we’re not looking to add every client. But that comes at a price.”
Campbell says the attorneys have built their client roster to a size that allows them “walk-away power,” meaning they can be selective about clients that they work with, and they don’t feel they have to take every client that walks in the door.
“Most of our clients … have been with us since the beginning. They came with us from Dunn & Black, moved to us, and are still with us now,” says Campbell. “I think they know we’re not here to bill the heck out of them and leave them on the side of the road.”
COVID-19 shutdowns didn’t slow business for the law firm, says Campbell. The firm added two lawyers and has maintained stable revenue throughout the pandemic, he says.
“We hired two people during the pandemic and a lot of that is because we did a lot of free education both for the Associated General Contractors and the Associated Builders & Contractors that really raised our profile,” he says.
The construction industry was an essential business during the pandemic, so many clients were able to maintain their operations, he says.
Campbell says he and Bissell donate their time to develop policies for the local chapters of AGC and ABC and their members.
To keep costs down for their clients, Campbell and Bissell both say they prefer to take on lawyers who have recently graduated from law school.
“They haven’t learned any bad habits yet,” Campbell says. “We use young lawyers as a way to ease the legal bill for our clients. As lawyers get more experience, they charge more. So it’s important to watch that growth and make sure we have younger lawyers we can use to help ease the fee burden.”
Campbell and Bissell met at college and were housemates at the University of Idaho, where the two participated in the Marine Corps option of the Navy Reserved Officers Training Corps program.
“We both graduated college as commissioned officers in the United States Marine Corps, so we both went in the Marines after college,” Campbell explains.
Bissell applied for, and was accepted to, the University of Washington through the Funded Law Education Program provided by the Marines. The program would have covered his school expenses and paid a salary, “then Hussein invaded Kuwait in ’91 and (Bissell) turned down the program and went over to the Gulf with his unit,” Campbell says.
He adds, “I was over there too, with my infantry unit, and we saw each other over in the Gulf.”
The University of Washington held Bissell’s spot for him to attend once he returned from the war. Campbell says he applied, but wasn’t accepted into the program, and chose to attend Gonzaga University’s School of Law instead. Both attorneys graduated from their respective law schools in 1994.
Bissell says he bounced around the Pacific Northwest after graduating law school, eventually flipping houses in the Seattle area. In 1994, Campbell joined Spokane law firm McCormick Dunn & Black, now known as Dunn & Black PS, and kept in touch with Bissell.
Three years later, Campbell was approached by his boss to find out if he could recommend a new attorney to work at the firm. “I said, ‘maybe,’ then drove over to Seattle and convinced Mike to come over and move to Spokane, and the rest is history,” Campbell explains.
The two attorneys worked for McCormick Dunn & Black until November 2005, which is when they decided to start their own construction law firm, originally located in leased quarters at the Symons Block, at 7 S. Howard.
Bissell recalls, “I remember in my first meeting, I sat on a garbage can.”
Adds Campbell, “It was just the three of us and times were a lot simpler back then.”
Campbell and Bissell both credit their experience in the Marine Corps for how they lead the law firm. They describe using the same leadership principles instilled in them from their time in the military.
“We take our role as educators of young lawyers really seriously and we really try to mentor them and try to develop them, and hopefully take over from us when we’re ready to retire,” Campbell says.
As far as expanding the firm goes, Campbell says, “We’re not going to grow and be a 10- or 12-person firm, ever. We end up working a lot on vacations and stuff just because. But that’s just a small business thing. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be available to your clients.”
Bissell adds that he and Campbell will do whatever it takes to be accessible to the firm’s clients, who can reach the attorneys directly by cellphone when necessary.
“We really want our clients to be successful,” he says. “That’s the key for us because those long-term relationships are extremely important to us.”