Managing Partner Roundtable: What Boutiques Do Better

Managing partners of niche practice firms discuss how they face competition from BigLaw

Boutique law firm managing partners met with Law Week on Sept. 5 to discuss the business argument for niche law firms. Abe Kean of Erise IP, Pat Linden of Linden Segal and Michael Mihm of Ogborn Mihm discussed the benefits and struggles that are unique to the boutique space. Tony Flesor, managing editor of Law Week moderated the discussion, and Hunter + Geist reported it.

LAW WEEK: To start things off, would each of you discuss what your firm is focused on and how you got to where you are?

LINDEN: Our firm is Linden Segal, and my partner and I have about 25 and 15 years’ experience with big firms, and then we came together in the last year, and we have four full-time attorneys. We are a transactional and business firm, kind of broad —but our specialties are mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, which means raising all kinds of venture capital, private equity, securities, those issues. And then corporation law, again, and everything that goes with that.

KEAN: I’m Abe Kean with Erise IP. We were also with a big firm for quite a while — with Shook Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City — and we saw an opportunity in the marketplace for some IP work.

We do IP litigation, mostly defense. Occasionally we’ll represent the patent owners. But we saw an opportunity in the market for what we thought was a boutique niche that would be a good fit, and we started off in 2012. There were seven lawyers originally, mostly in Kansas City, and it was just me out here [in Denver]. We have seven people here in Denver now and then probably 35 to 40 total head count in our two offices combined with attorneys, analysts and some modest staff.

MIHM: My name is Michael Mihm; I am one of the co-founders of Ogborn Mihm. We are a boutique trial law firm. We have 12 lawyers, and we do almost entirely plaintiff’s side work. We do a lot of personal injury and products, but we have a significant commercial litigation practice.

I think one thing that is unique that we do is we have a substantial plaintiff legal malpractice trial practice — that’s probably a third of our total caseload and probably more than a third of our revenue, so we take those cases all over the country. So that presents some unique opportunities, some unique challenges for us.

LAW WEEK: And did you have a prior Big Law background as well?

MIHM: I worked as a staff person at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles when I was in law school. But other than that, my partner Murray Ogborn was with a major law firm in the ’80s and early ’90s, and that broke up; they had like eight or 10 offices nationwide. And he then focused on plaintiff personal injury. He had a small boutique firm.

I was with a larger defense firm here in town for 18 years, and in 2003 split off and became a plaintiff lawyer with several partners. Eventually my partners went on the bench, and after that, Murray and I merged our two firms in late 2012. So we’ve been at this about six years in our current configuration.

LAW WEEK: So with all of you having prior experience at larger national firms, what inspired the move to do your own thing and have the niche focus?

LINDEN: In my instance, I was always a businessperson. I thought I’d end up in finance or something and got a law degree. I had some cool opportunities to work with John Moye for a number of years, worked with Lee Reichert — two very great lawyers, great guys — worked with Sherman & Howard, Faegre Baker Daniels.

I’ve always challenged the status quo, the bottom line. I’ve always been very relationship-oriented, and I was noticing that — particularly in Colorado, sort of a middle market, and lower middle market sort of business environment — that I believed that I could offer what I was doing as efficiently and as effectively and at a better price on my own.

That’s sort of what our mantra is: we’re entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. And my partner believed that, too. We doubled down, and we took what we think is our tactical experience, and we’re building a niche business. So it hasn’t changed a whole lot other than we don’t have the same political dynamics. We think that is a real benefit to Colorado clients, in particular, because we think that we provide the same expertise at a better price and move more quickly.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the October 1, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.