- change ups
WM Defense Team opens office
New downtown firm already has almost 400 cases open for year.
While it’s not uncommon for criminal defense attorneys to practice alone or as part of a two-attorney partnership, the founders of West Michigan Defense Team decided to go a step further and hatched the idea of building a small criminal defense firm.
Jeffrey Kortes, Gerald Lykins, Mark Hunting and Jason Jansma — all seasoned area attorneys — joined together in January in an equal partnership to launch a four-person firm: West Michigan Defense Team.
They have since moved into a newly renovated 4,500-square-foot office space at 77 Monroe Center and work is steadily increasing.
“We are just shy of 400 cases open for the year,” Kortes said.
WMDT represents criminal cases ranging from serious felony offenses such as murder, criminal sexual conduct, home invasion, and embezzlement, to misdemeanors such as operating while intoxicated and domestic assault.
Approximately half of the office’s current cases are misdemeanors and the other half felonies. Cases have come from as far away as Detroit, Charlevoix and St. Joseph. WMDT said it will go anywhere in the state it is needed.
The partners count drunk driving defense as a particular strong suit and have already handled nearly 100 of those cases.
“In the criminal defense world, we would take on any case,” said Hunting. “I think there has been a focus at this firm, particularly among the four of us — a lot of drunk-driving work: first, second, third offenses and more … A lot of times you will end up with accompanying drug charges and things like that, too.”
WMDT is doing a lot of circuit-court-appointed work, as well. “We all feel that it is a social responsibility to provide quality, competent representation to people who might not ordinarily be able to afford an attorney,” Lykins said. “I think our reputation with the circuit court judges for how we handle our court-appointed cases is really high.”
WMDT’s structure provides several benefits to clients. While each case is assigned a primary attorney, any of the partners is available to pitch in as needed.
“That offers a lot more coverage and it works out good for us. … We know each of our different styles and we are able to use those to benefit each of our clients to the utmost,” Kortes said.
Hunting added, “It also allows the client to choose a little bit, too. If they sit down with one or two or three of us and we get the sense that they feel more comfortable with Jerry rather than me, then he will probably be the one that handles the file. It just gives everybody more flexibility.”
Clients are also saving on big-firm costs.
“We can handle the same cases in a firm setting with multiple heads and multiple eyes looking at a file, but we can do it cost effectively for the client because we don’t have the overhead and the expenses that would come with a 30-, 60- or 90-attorney law firm, which makes us competitive, rates wise, with all the other practicing criminal defense attorneys out there, but gives the client the benefit of having a firm-type atmosphere,” Hunting said.
The four partners have a variety of experience, including working as solo practitioners, being part of larger area firms and working in the Kent County Prosecutor’s office.
Clients aren’t the only ones to benefit. The firm’s structure allows the partners more opportunity for vacation time and to fulfill personal obligations.
“If Mark wanted to take a week’s worth of vacation as a solo, that meant he had a week’s worth of business that might go somewhere else,” Lykins explained. “This way, a client that I have, Jeff can call and say, ‘I work with Jerry, I am his partner.’ … It does provide for us to have individual flexibility.”
WMDT has signed a long-term lease for its new space, which also has 2,000 additional square feet available should a future build-out become necessary.
“Ideally, as the years go on, we’d like to add, probably, associates to start, and then maybe place them on some sort of partnership track,” Hunting said.
“I think we all went in this with the goal that, looking back … we would like to say that we were part of creating one of the pre-eminent firms in Grand Rapids, let alone just a criminal defense firm. We’d like people to recognize us as being skilled attorneys and quality people and those that can fight for clients’ rights.”
So far, WMDT’s concept is gaining support from other criminal defense attorneys around town. “We got an almost universally positive reaction about ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Grand Rapids could use something like this,’” Hunting said.