GRAND RAPIDS — Detroit-based Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP wants to build a presence in the Grand Rapids market based on the talent the law firm can attract.
After bringing aboard veteran M&A attorney Tracy Larsen, who previously ran the Grand Rapids office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP as managing partner, Honigman plans to pursue additional lawyers, both locally and from outside the market.
Honigman does not have a target for the number of attorneys it wants to have in Grand Rapids and will focus instead on building specific practices in real estate and intellectual property, for example.
“That office could be six attorneys in a year or two years, or it could be 25. It depends upon the deal that we’re presented with and those types of opportunities,” said Phil Torrence, an M&A attorney and managing partner at Honigman’s Kalamazoo office, which he launched in 2008. “We thought long and hard over the years after we launched in Kalamazoo about doing something in Grand Rapids. This hire really further exemplifies Honigman’s growth strategy to secure talent.”
Additionally, Honigman’s presence in the larger Grand Rapids market could accelerate the firm’s recruitment on the west side of the state.
“There are attorneys in the Grand Rapids market we’d love to have be part of our local office there who we’ve talked to over the years,” Torrence said. “Maybe historically, (they) have said, ‘We don’t want to commute to Kalamazoo,’ and now this will allow us to further those conversations and put something together.”
The Detroit-based Honigman first came to Western Michigan eight years ago with the opening of the Kalamazoo office, which is now staffed by more than 30 attorneys. Torrence and intellectual property attorney Jonathan O’Brien launched the Kalamazoo office after they left Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone PLC.
In Grand Rapids, Honigman will seek to pick up talent not only from other law firms in the market but also by reaching out to West Michigan natives who are practicing elsewhere in the U.S. and may have an interest in returning home, Torrence said.
“We’re talking to people currently who are in major financial markets who may have wanted to come back to Grand Rapids but didn’t feel they could have the same type of practice they have in Chicago or New York or L.A. or Boston. Now with us being up there in Grand Rapids, we have an opportunity to do some pretty cool things,” he said.
The Grand Rapids office is Honigman’s seventh, along with locations in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Bloomfield Hills and Chicago.
Typically, when a new law firm enters a market, it often results in some movement of partners and associates from competing firms, said Nelson Miller, associate dean of the Grand Rapids campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
Honigman’s entry into Grand Rapids follows a typical pattern for law firms in which they hire a premier lawyer in the market with an established clientele to lead the move, Miller said. The bigger question is whether clients will follow, he said.
“Entering a new market for a firm can be a challenge, so the best way of doing that is what lawyers call ‘lateral hires’ and bringing on lawyers who already have local business,” Miller said. “That’s the value of a lateral hire — that they have an established base or a book of business, but it’s the clients’ decision on whether to follow, and the old firm will be competing for those clients.
“So it’s really an open question of how many of the clients will follow. With premier lawyers like Tracy, you would expect that you’d see many of the clients value his skills over the relationship with the firm. But again, it’s an open question.”
Indeed, Larsen has prior experience in establishing a law office. He left Warner Norcross & Judd LLP in 2003 to join the Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg and build the firm’s Grand Rapids office, including bringing on attorneys from other firms in the market. More than 30 attorneys staff the local Barnes & Thornburg office today, which now will be managed by Robert Sikkel, a partner and a labor and employment attorney.
Larsen joined Honigman as managing partner of the Grand Rapids office and co-chair of the firm’s mergers and acquisition practice. He specializes in M&A, joint ventures, takeover defense, corporate finance and restructurings, and federal securities law.
Larsen is a two-time winner of the MiBiz Dealmaker of the Year Award in the adviser category and was named runner-up in the category this year. At the time, Larsen said he had completed $2.5 billion worth of deals in the last year, building off a $2 billion year in 2015.
Previously, Larsen has represented the likes of Wolverine World Wide Inc., Meijer Inc., Quincy Street Meats, Berkshire Hathaway’s HomeServices of America, Gordon Food Service, Service Express Inc. and Netech Corp.
Torrence describes Larsen as “the undisputed, pre-eminent M&A lawyer in Grand Rapids” whose practice “fits perfectly with the core of what we do.” In 2015, Honigman provided counsel on more than 204 transactions for a combined $14 billion in value.
In moving his law practice to the largest firm in Michigan, Larsen can access a deeper bench of resources to serve clients, he said.
“Honigman is a dominant player in the state of Michigan in the areas that matter most to my clients,” said Larsen, noting the firm has consistently received a Tier 1 ranking from Chambers USA among Michigan-based law firms.
“Honigman is positioned to provide me support, and in turn my clients support, that will be very beneficial to my clients,” he said.
In building Honigman’s Grand Rapids office, “we will evaluate opportunities from the perspective of talent acquisition and the ability of talented Grand Rapids lawyers to provide service not only to local clients but also national clients,” Larsen said.
“We will certainly look at all talent in the marketplace,” he said. “It’s really driven by the quality of opportunities that can present themselves.”
Honigman is presently looking for short-term and permanent office space, preferably in the downtown area, Larsen said. He expects to secure a temporary location soon and have the office open by early 2017.