Clayton's Blitz, Bardgett and Deutsch Finds Strength in (Small) Numbers
Its attorneys say the firm is positioned to service its clients in a wide range of practice areas more typically found in much larger firms.
With 17 attorneys, in Clayton and Jefferson City, Blitz, Bardgett and Deutsch (BB&D) may seem small in comparison to other St. Louis-area law firms. But BB&D is positioned to service its clients in a wide range of practice areas more typically found in much larger firms.
Firm attorneys say the close-knit working environment allows them to share diverse knowledge in business, litigation and regulatory law that benefits clients. Its attorneys often counsel privately held local companies on specific matters or on all of the companies’ legal matters, serving as a general counsel to business owners
The size of the firm also allows them to get know one another's families and interests.
Three faces, three backgrounds
Ellen Dunne is an associate at the firm who specializes in litigation. Dunne had previously worked with some of the firm's founders, and namesake Robert Blitz encouraged her to join the Clayton office. She wanted to get back into litigation and thought it would be a good fit.
She started at the end of 2000.
Chris Bauman is a partner at the firm in the litigation group. He worked for three years as legal counsel in former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden's office. During that time he first met Blitz, who later invited him to join the firm.
Bauman's brother is also a lawyer and worked for a large multinational firm. But Bauman wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted to be a part of jury trials and to work at a small, local firm.
He joined the firm in September 2003 as an associate, later became a partner and has "enjoyed everything about it."
"It's been a very good fit for me," Bauman said.
Kevin Fleming is a partner at the firm who specializes in transactions. He had spent five and a half years at St. Louis-based Bryan Cave, where he worked in the real estate and banking groups and was on track to have a narrow specialty area.
"I wanted to do a wider range of things," Fleming said.
He started working at BB&D in December 2008 after a friend and colleague alerted Fleming to an opening at the firm that fit his skill set
Building a successful firm
The success of law firms comparable to BB&D can be measured in a number of ways. Among them are the volume of cases a firm has won and the client return rate.
In terms of winning cases, Bauman said, the Clayton firm has been "phenomenally successful." The level of verdicts given in favor of the firm's clients has remained high for years.
But beyond that, the question is whether clients can come to a firm to get advice about issues that don't necessarily involve a lawsuit, he said. That includes information about regulatory issues—the firm maintains a Jefferson City office whose attorneys handle those very matters—and about appropriate strategy and tactics to achieve a desired goal.
Profits per partner is another indicator often used in the legal community, Fleming said. But that's a law industry-focused statistic that views peer firms as competitors.
There's not a lot of that mentality at BB&D.
"It's more about repeat business—are our clients coming back to us for more work?'" Fleming said.
Dunne points out that the firm doesn't have just one specialty. Instead, its attorneys handle cases as needed. Her work has included cases involving work in the practice area of employment law.
Cases she has worked on include that of Tony Twist. Twist, a former St. Louis Blues hockey player, claimed Todd McFarlane had misappropriated his name as part of the Spawn comic book series.
The firm represented Twist successfully in that case.
She and Bauman also recall the case of Aaron O'Neal, a redshirt freshman at the University of Missouri who died in July 2005 during offseason football training. The firm successfully represented O'Neal's family in a wrongful death lawsuit in that case.
It marked one of the first cases Bauman worked on from start to finish, he said. It allowed him to see each step of the process. He reviewed 30 years of strength and conditioning periodicals, working to learn what people should have known about the risks facing O'Neal, who had sickle cell trait.
"It was a meaningful case because I learned a lot about Aaron," Bauman said.
He said it also resulted in meaningful changes: Shortly after the case ended, a national sports health organization adopted new standards for spotting and reacting to problems experienced by people with sickle cell trait. A scholarship endowment also was created in Aaron's memory.
The firm recently launched a new website and branded itself as BB&D. It employs 17 attorneys in its two offices who collectively have expertise in 80 practice areas.
Ultimately, one of the firm's primary goals is to serve as a one-stop shop for its clients.
Fleming shares an example: Earlier this week, one of his clients asked him to review a lease draft for a planned expansion and also asked him to look over a document in connection with an unrelated lawsuit.
While it sometimes make sense to grow a firm, Dunne said, she thinks its current size is fitting. BB&D isn't looking to become a 600-attorney firm. Its employees come from diverse backgrounds, and the atmosphere is relaxed.
Bauman said that has been true from the beginning.
He enjoys being able to walk down the hall to talk with coworkers about their children, families and areas of expertise.
"It's a great place to work," Dunne said.