Lakeshore and Law

Smith Haughey COO notes law firm’s expansion

Succession plans are in place and new initiatives taking hold.

January 31, 2014
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Lori Gibson recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with law firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, and she’s already racked up quite a few successes.

In the past year Gibson took on the job of developing the firm’s new Muskegon office and streamlining operations between all four Smith Haughey offices, which in addition to the Muskegon location include Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Ann Arbor.

“Basically, my role is to oversee the business operations of the firm. … I oversee things like HR, finance, IT and marketing — all the business operations of the firm. I also advise the CEO and the board in terms of strategy and growth plans.”

Gibson’s previous legal experience — she worked as an attorney for 12 years — combined with the seven years she spent at Spectrum Health working in various operational roles, make her a particularly good fit for Smith Haughey.

Gibson said she has been focused on two main issues, both of which involve making sure the firm is prepared for the future.

“Like many law firms and companies, we are going to be facing a significant number of retirements of very key people in the next five to 10 years,” she said. “We are really focused on making sure that we prepare successors for them, so that when those key people leave we have other people ready to step into their shoes, so that is a huge focus.”

She noted one of the ways the firm is staying ahead of retirements is by having annual conversations with attorneys who are approaching retirement age. 

“If they want to keep working, that’s fine, but if they think they are going to start winding down in the next three years, that is when we will be very intentional about putting a transition plan in place,” she said. 

That plan includes making sure an attorney has been identified to fill the role and preparing him or her to make the transition. The attorney on deck, so to speak, will begin meeting with clients and building relationships so the transition will be comfortable.

“We also are looking very strategically overall at the makeup of our work force, and if there are places where we don’t have the people that would have the skills or ability to step in, then we need to go out and find them and plug some holes, so we are working on doing that too,” she said.

“Succession — that is a huge issue. The makeup of this firm is going to change so dramatically over the next 10 years, so that really has to be our number one focus.”

Gibson said that the firm is also focused on growth.

“We’ve identified strategic growth areas for the firm and we are really trying to build those,” she said. “Areas like corporate law, real estate, intellectual property, employment law — those are some of them where we are really focused on growing.”

She said the firm has already begun building those areas by hiring additional attorneys and with the addition of the Muskegon office in 2013.

Even & Franks PLLC joined Smith Haughey this past fall. 

“It was a standalone firm in Muskegon that had four attorneys, and they are a very heavily business-oriented law firm, which is an area that we are trying to grow.

“They needed some additional resources,” Gibson said. “They had a lot of work and a lot of good clients, but not enough people to do all of the work, so they wanted to be part of a bigger firm so they had more resources that they could call on. And we didn’t have a presence there so it gave us a nice entry on the lakeshore and to a really nice group of clients that firm already had, so it was a good fit for both of us.

“We’ve really strategically placed ourselves throughout the state in the heart of downtown areas of four key cities, where we think we can really achieve that strategic growth we are looking for,” she added.

The firm also grew its Grand Rapids office last year by expanding its office space in the Flat Iron Building into the adjacent building.

The firm’s overall growth strategy is focused on attracting small and mid-market business clients, according to Gibson. Smith Haughey is working hard to attract a diverse group of staff and attorneys to serve those clients. On the non-attorney side of the firm, it’s been quite successful. Gibson’s work includes leading a team of administrative directors between Smith Haughey’s four offices, most of them comprised of women.

“The non-attorney leadership of the firm is very heavily occupied by women: our CFO, HR director, marketing director — a number of those positions. In fact, of the eight non-attorney leadership positions, women hold seven of them.

“The firm is very committed to diversity, which includes many types of diversity, but promoting the employment and growth of women is a key part of that. The firm has been very diversity-conscious in its hiring, certainly, and in its policies.”

She said part-time schedules and generous maternity leave are just two of the policies that are attractive to women joining the firm.

“The fact that we have so many women in the leadership roles is key,” she added.

The firm is also focused on promoting its female attorneys, and of its two newest shareholders, Gibson reports one is a woman.

“We’ve hired a significant number of women recently so, obviously, we are very focused on that in all areas,” she said.

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