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Front Page - Friday, January 26, 2018

‘New guys’ take their skills to Spears Moore

Rick Marcus, left, Leslie Foster and Joe White. - Photograph by David Laprad

After more than 40 years of practicing law, Rick Marcus is in a strange position as “the new guy.”

At least he’s not alone. His long-time partners-in-law at Franklin, Cooper & Marcus – David Franklin, Gary Cooper and Cynthia Hall are new as well.

As of Jan. 1, the four attorneys, who practiced together out of a converted home in the Fort Wood Historic District for more than a dozen years, are now part of the law firm Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams.

The move was the culmination of a months-long discussion that began with a question.

As Marcus and Joe White, Spears Moore president and managing partner, were mediating a case together, White asked Marcus what Hall was planning to do as Marcus and the others, who are older than Hall, retired from the practice of law.

Marcus took the query back to Hall, who’d been mulling the same matter.

“I’d started to wonder what I was going to do,” Hall says. “I didn’t want to maintain the building and firm by myself, and I didn’t want to buy each of them out as they retired. So, when Joe approached Rick, it sounded like a good idea.”

The parties involved said the merger would be an excellent fit. Not only had many of them been friends over the years – White describes Marcus as a “personal friend, professional friend and golfing friend” – the two firms practiced similar types of law.

Spears Moore (www.smrw.com.) is primarily a civil litigation defense firm, although its attorneys do work in many areas of the law. Franklin, Cooper & Marcus engaged in a civil litigation practice, as well. Lawyers at both firms have a long history of insurance defense work.

“Franklin, Cooper & Marcus was a smaller version of Spears Moore,” Marcus adds.

The merger also provided Spears Moore with an opportunity to expand its practice in certain areas. Marcus, for example, focuses almost entirely on mediation work. While Spears Moore has other Rule 31 meditators on its team, Marcus brings a nearly full-time mediation practice to the firm.

There was one other consideration for Spears Moore – fortifying its foundation for its long-term clients and younger attorneys. White says the merger is part of a series of steps the firm is taking to prepare its next generation of attorneys to continue the work of the firm and ensure a smooth transition as those matters are passed down.

“Some people would be satisfied with the way things are. Why would we deal with all this when we’re not going to be here much longer?” White admits. “But that’s exactly why we’re doing it. We want this firm to be here 40 or 50 years from now, so we’re addressing these issues now. The guys who were here before us did the same thing.”

Leslie Foster, one of the up-and-coming attorneys at Spears Moore, appreciates the consideration. “I’m looking at a 30- to 40-year career here, so I’m glad Joe and the others are building up the firm with good people,” she says.

A few years ago, the depressed market for legal services would have put a damper on such a deal. But improvements in the economy since then made the merger with Franklin, Cooper & Marcus possible.

“It was four or five years after the downturn in 2008 before we started seeing an increase in demand for legal services. For several years, we made no effort to recruit. We didn’t see the landscape supporting growth, so we hunkered down and took care of ourselves,” White explains.

“Once the climate started changing, it became more appropriate for us to seek out additional help,” White continues. “Those opportunities make sense now, even though things still aren’t back to where they were before 2008. But the market is improving, so we saw this as a good opportunity.”

Still, White says Spears Moore did not see the merger as a means of growth. Rather, it was a unique opportunity that presented itself out of a set of special circumstances, and both firms saw it as beneficial.

“We’ve taken in laterals when there’s been a good working relationship, and we thought the move would benefit everyone involved,” he says.

For the attorneys of Franklin, Cooper and Marcus, splitting up the firm and going their separate ways was never a consideration. Rather, the tightly-knit group of four, who have a history that goes back nearly three decades through their time with other firms, wanted to remain together.

“We’re like family. We used to argue about everything – from things as simple as what to do for lunch to what to do as a firm,” Hall adds.

At least logistically, the move appears to have been mostly trouble-free, with the firms hitting only a few minor bumps along the way. Being a much larger practice, Spears Moore’s processes are more formal and their technology more up-to-date. This has presented special challenges to the incoming attorneys, although Marcus and Hall both say their new colleagues at Spears Moore have gone out of their way to bring them up to speed.

“I’ve asked a lot of questions,” Marcus says. “I’m technologically illiterate and the people here are technologically advanced, so it’s been a challenge for me. But everyone has been a big help.”

“They’ve worked hard to make the transition as smooth as possible,” Hall acknowledges. “It’s gone fairly well. There’s a learning curve for us because they use a fancier system. But the people here are wonderful, and everyone has been willing to show us how to do things.”

Tech challenges aside, Marcus couldn’t be happier, as the move gives him a comfortable and attractive environment in which to serve his mediation clients. Spears Moore moved into a renovated space in the Regions Bank Building on Market Street in 2017 after two decades in the Pioneer Building. Before the merger, Marcus was forced to meet clients at an off-site space, which was inconvenient for everyone involved. “This facility is perfect for me,” he says.

Hall feels the same way, although she jokes that she’s still adjusting to the longer commute. “I live in Fort Wood, so I was able to walk to work,” she notes. “Now it takes me six minutes to get to work, which is still pretty good.”

Hall is also having trouble shaking old habits. “I sometimes take a wrong turn when I get off the elevator and have to walk around the building to get to where I need to go,” she says, laughing.

(If Hall wanted to, she could blame her wrong turns on her recent nuptials, which added another element of change to her life. In September, she and her long-time partner Dan Chandler married after more than a dozen years together. It’s the first time Hall, who at a young age swore she’d never marry, has been a spouse in her 56 years of life.)

The absorption of Franklin, Cooper & Marcus was just one set of additions among other recent add-ons at Spears Moore. The firm also brought on attorney Scott Johnson, formerly of Fleissner, Davis & Johnson, and associate Martha Burgett at the beginning of the year, giving them 34 attorneys.

Everyone involved is pleased with the changes and are looking forward to the future.

“You won’t find a better firm than Spears Moore,” says Marcus. “They have an outstanding professional reputation, which was important to us. There are firms we would have turned down.”

“We’re excited about bringing on four people with great reputations and legal skills,” White adds. “Plus, they’re friendly people we enjoy being around.”

“I’m happy to be here,” says Hall, who served as the catalyst for the merger. “I’ve found a home for the future.”

Only Marcus appears to be slightly wistful about the merger as he looks back on the work of dismantling his former firm. “Franklin, Cooper & Marcus no longer exists except on our old business cards, so save ‘em if you got ‘em,” he says. “They’re collector’s items.”