Rhoades McKee is looking forward

March 1, 2010
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A half century ago, Dale Rhoades and William Garlington started a small law firm that steadily grew into one of the city’s most notable legal practices.

From a modest beginning as Rhoades & Garlington, Rhoades McKee PC has gained a stellar reputation in the business community as a thoughtful counselor, legal advisor and successful litigator. This year, the firm is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“We have decided to commemorate the anniversary with the theme ‘Looking Forward. Giving Back.’ Continuing in the philosophy set by our firm’s founders, our current members believe that to effectively serve the community they need to be involved,” said Robert Shaver, Rhoades McKee president.

“Our program includes community events and sponsorships, which will benefit area nonprofit organizations and provide volunteer service opportunities for our members within the West Michigan community,” Shaver added.

The “giving back” portion of the firm’s celebration includes helping with the Kids First program, donating children’s books to the Literacy Center of West Michigan and sponsoring a food drive for needy and deserving families.

As for looking forward, Vice President of Practice Development Mary Jane Rhoades said the firm is positioning itself to take advantage of what is most likely to emerge from a recovering and restructuring economy.

“We’ve tried to be quite deliberate about evaluating business opportunities and trying to keep current with those. One example I can give you would be a pretty recent increased effort to have a greater presence in the health care practice. We have an active health care practice group in the law firm, and I think we’re really well situated to grow that practice area for a variety of reasons,” she said.

“But one would be our ability to draw on our very long history of doing medical malpractice defense work. So we can look forward to a growth opportunity in health care by drawing upon a strong, thriving medical defense practice group that has existed for 25 to 30 years of our 50 years.”

Rhoades said another practice area the firm wants to grow is its sustainable business group. Going greener seems a natural for Rhoades McKee, as the firm has had a commercial real estate group and an environmental law practice for years.

“There are other areas, but those would be some examples of what we’re looking forward to in terms of the immediate future by way of business development,” said Rhoades.

Vice President of Associate Development John Lichtenberg looked back over the firm’s history and cited a merger that occurred in 1987 as a highlight. He said the merger turned into a “seminal event,” as the union was ultimately responsible for the development of the firm. Back then Rhoades Boer & McKee took its litigation expertise and joined forces with Mony, Goodrich & Titta, which was noted for its prowess in business law.

“They melded those two broad practice areas together, and it really was a ‘one plus one makes three’ kind of merger because it significantly expanded the business services that were available. But it also particularly expanded the commercial litigation services that were able to be provided, that really up to that point had not been part of the bread and butter of the Rhoades McKee firm,” said Lichtenberg.

“So now, some 20-plus years later, post merger, we represent local hospitals in really very significant litigation, not just the medical malpractice — although that is certainly significant — but also in employment and other health care related matters. … That really is a kind of byproduct from that merger that you like to see, and I think is reflective of the deliberate and intentional kind of growth we have looked at and continue to look at,” he added.

In addition to expanding the firm’s litigation areas, the merger gave Mary Ann Cartwright an incentive to develop the employment and labor practice at Rhoades McKee. Cartwright still practices in that area at the firm, and she became the firm’s first female shareholder in 1987.

As Rhoades McKee enters the second half of its first century, Rhoades said she believes that the sturdy base created over the last 50 years will help its team of 52 attorneys continue down the path it has carved out.

“I think the team of lawyers here are very capable in both the business side and the litigation side. I think that for a long time we’ve had significant depth in litigation and in business,” she said.

“And because of those fundamentals, I think we’re pretty nimble in terms of being able to adapt going forward. I think we can put tentacles out into the areas we’ve talked about and others that I’m sure we haven’t really identified yet — and, perhaps, nobody has.”

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