The Ohio-based law firm Arter & Hadden is closing its doors, effective today, July 15, after 143 years of operation. From the ashes of the old firm, a new one has emerged: Tucker, Ellis & West with 67 lawyers from the old firm. I put in a phone call to Bob Tucker, a former partner at Arter, and interviewed him about the marketing strategy for the new firm.
The death of Arter was in part caused by a bad marketing strategy, according to Tucker. Arter & Hadden decided in the 1980s that there were too few clients to be found in their Ohio home base, so it decided to become a full-service national law firm with additional offices in Texas, Washington, D.C. and California. By 1999 the firm had grown to 470 lawyers.
The firm also accumulated a big infrastructure including large offices, lease obligations, furniture, computers and staff. As it turned out, the national marketing strategy did not succeed and the firm shrank so that by June 2003 it was down to 225 lawyers. "But we still had an infrastructure for 470 lawyers," Tucker said. When landlords refused to renegotiate their leases, the firm decided to close.
Efforts to re-emerge began immediately. The firm's 79-member Columbus staff will show up for work today as employees of a new firm, Bailey Cavalieri LLC. Simultaneously, 67 ex-Arter lawyers and 21 legal assistants from the Cleveland office will show up at Tucker Ellis & West.
Tucker said his new firm won't make the same marketing strategy mistake twice. "The new firm is a Cleveland-based firm with full-service capabilities serving a regional business client base," he said. TE&W will have offices in LA and SFO, but they will not be full-service offices. "We are not Arter & Hadden," Tucker said. "We are not attempting to become a national law firm."
Happily, the new firm has a "very significant" Fortune 50 client base -- including Johnson & Johnson and United Technology -- for whom the firm handles litigation around the country. The existing clients will be the core of TE&W's marketing strategy: to keep very close relationships with current clients. "We will continue to take new engagements from our current clients. From a marketing standpoint, we're going to continue to do more of the same in developing our relationships," Tucker said.
Tucker said that Arter & Hadden's staff and lawyers got job offers from across the country, but turned them down. For example, Janet O'Hara, who was the Marketing Director at Arter & Hadden, will start work this week at TE&W. The staff and lawyers decided to join TE&W for two reasons:
1. "They like practicing law with people with whom they've been working, in many instances, for 30 years. For most of the lawyers from Arter & Hadden, this is the firm they joined right out of law school," Tucker said.
2. The "Midwestern" culture of the firm. "The relationships they have with clients is more than a business relationship. These client relationships are very "Midwestern," they're meaningful to people beyond just a business relationship. Our clients are people who have brought their problems to our lawyers who look at them as their own problems. They want to make sure that they were able to continue in those relationships. If they had gone to some other firm, there would necessarily have been a disruption of this," Tucker said.
Look for a lot of marketing activity by TE&W, starting Wednesday July 16 when their new Web site debuts at www.tuckerellis.com. "I'll have a statement on the Web site of what we are about, and it will distill some of what we just talked about." The firm will also be holding events and sending out announcements.
"My own view, though, is that the best marketing for what we are about are the relationships we have with our existing clients. We're not in a situation where we need to find new clients. We already have a lot of client relationships that are on our top priority list; they're going to get our attention. Marketing for new clients is not our first priority -- it's continuing to make sure our existing clients are comfortable."