Largest law firm here expects more growth this year

Largest law firm here expects more growth this year

McLean, Mike

Paine Hamblen LLP weathered the economic downturn of the early part of this decade and is now undergoing “deliberate growth,” says Scott L. Simpson, managing partner at Spokane’s largest law firm.

The firm, located on three floors of the Washington Trust Financial Center, at 717 W. Sprague, has 61 attorneys, including nine who are based in its Coeur d’Alene law office. Former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt is a member of the firm and works in Washington, D.C.

Paine Hamblen’s total staff is 133 people. The firm had 44 lawyers and a total staff of 106 people 10 years ago, and it was on an aggressive growth track until 2001, when an economic recession halted the firm’s growth until 2005.

“Now, we’re growing more deliberately,” Simpson says. “We pay careful attention to clients, the local economy, and those areas where we specifically see growth.” Simpson says Paine Hamblen, which shortened its name at the start of the year from Paine, Hamblen, Coffin Brook & Miller LLP, is planning to hire three more lawyers this year.

“That puts us in the top 10 largest law firms in the state,” Simpson says.

In addition to its Spokane and Coeur d’Alene offices, the firm has an office in the Tri-Cities. It doesn’t plan to add any offices, although that could change, depending on client needs.

“We’re open to it if existing or new clients need our presence somewhere else,” Simpson says.

Simpson declines to disclose the firm’s annual billings, but says they’re growing.

“We handle some cases on an hourly basis and some by contingency fees. Some cases last well over a year,” he says. “Revenue fluctuates based on the mix, but revenue is increasing overall.”

The firm has many large corporate clients, including Avista Corp., Sacred Heart Medical Center, Telect Inc., and Red Lion Hotels Corp. It also serves many individuals who need a variety of business and personal legal advice.

“Family law is growing in our firm,” he says. “We have a new family law practice group.”

The firm often uses a team approach by involving one or more of its 10 practice groups to meet a client’s needs. For instance, some business clients may need services from Paine Hamblen’s tax, employment, and real estate practice groups.

“That’s an advantage for a client who has needs for attorneys in different disciplines,” Simpson says.

Although Paine Hamblen’s Spokane roots are more than a century old, it doesn’t rely on tradition to maintain forward momentum, he says.

“Our longevity is not something we take for granted,” Simpson says. “We plan how best to meet the needs of clients and what their needs are going to be in the future.”

The firm has seen a drop in legal work involving mining and timber issues, and an increase in services for banking and startup ventures.

Other growth areas in the firm’s caseload are estate planning, retirement planning, business succession and “e-law,” he says.

The latter practice area includes electronic communications and transactions and how they affect trademarks and intellectual property. It’s an area where the law lags behind the technology, Simpson says.

“Cllients have issues and questions,” he says. “The law has a difficult time catching up to it.”

In addition to being managing partner in the firm, his expertise is in business and tax law, Simpson says.

He says this year has been unusually busy with a large number of mergers and acquisitions among Paine Hamblen’s clients.

“It’s an anomaly for the first three months of the year,” he says, adding, “It may be the start of a trend, and there’s going to be more than ever this year.”

If it’s a trend, it could be due to a combination of a robust local economy and an aging baby boomer generation in which many business owners are reaching the point in their careers where they’re considering exit strategies, he theorizes.

The latest development in the legal community is potential new competition from Seattle-based “megalaw firms” that are starting to enter the Spokane market, Simpson says, but he says Paine Hamblen hasn’t been affected by that so far.

“We’re continuing to experience growth, and we’re hiring lawyers,” he says. “Clients recognize we are Spokane -based, and we can provide the same quality services an out-of-Spokane law firm can offer.”

Paine Hamblen does have connections for clients who need legal services in other geographic areas.

The firm is a member of the American Law Firm Association (ALFA), which has 125 member firms, including 40 foreign offices.

“ALFA allows us to put a client in contact immediately with a high-quality law firm they might need in the U.S. or overseas,” he says. “It goes both ways. An ALFA member in Dallas may have a client in need of a Spokane attorney. We’re the only Spokane-Coeur d’Alene firm in ALFA.”

Simpson says most of Paine Hamblen’s attorneys have been with the firm for their entire careers, and Paine Hamblen continually recruits new prospects to join the firm.

“We’re always looking for highly qualified attorneys who want to live and work in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene,” he says. “We get a lot of applicants, from some experienced practitioners and from some who are fresh out of law school. It’s a matter of finding the right match.”

The firm’s history dates back to 1893 with the launch of Black & Post. In 1980 when that firm was Paine, Lowe, Coffin, Herman & O’Kelly, it merged with Hamblen, Gilbert & Brooke, which had started as Hamblen & Lund in 1899. The firm operated as Paine, Hamblen, Coffin & Brooke from 1980 until 1986, when it added the Miller name upon merging with the Coeur d’Alene firm, Miller & Miller.

In 1999, Paine Hamblen merged with the law firm Chase, Hayes & Kalamon PS. The combined practice operated out of two downtown locations until 2005, when it consolidated all of its Spokane operations on the 11th, 12th, and 14th floors of the Washington Trust Financial Center, where it occupies about 33,000 square feet of office space.

Copyright Northwest Business Press Inc. Apr 19, 2007

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