Primerus Alliance Extends Reach

August 11, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The International Society of Primerus Law Firms has hooked up with Chicago-based Alliance of Merger and Acquisition Advisors to expand service offerings to middle-market, privately owned businesses.

Primerus is an international alliance of independent, highly rated law firms with 50 or fewer lawyers. The organization was founded by local attorney John C. Buchanan in 1992. Buchanan started Primerus “to uplift the legal profession and restore dignity to it,” said Ruth Martin, senior vice president of membership services for Primerus. The organization’s motto is to “help good lawyers find good clients and good clients find good lawyers.”

The organization has approximately 100 law firms across 37 states, as well as one firm in Toronto. Member firms are AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell, a peer review rating that indicates the highest level of professional excellence. Its pool of law firms offers expertise in scores of specialty practice areas.

AMAA is an organization of individual merger and acquisition professionals that serves owners of privately held, middle market businesses: Its client base is comprised of sellers and buyers of businesses in the $5 million to $150 million range. AMAA has more than 500 members across more than 15 countries, including CPAs, valuation specialists, turnaround specialists, investment bankers, private equity groups or wealth management professionals.

The organization’s members provide the entire spectrum of consulting and corporate financial advisory services to measure, build, finance and convert business value into personal wealth, said Diane Niederman, vice president of business development and marketing for AMAA. The organization is the acknowledged leading association and credential body for middle-market merger and acquisition specialists.

Since the majority of AMAA members are not lawyers, they typically seek out highly qualified, specialized law firms when they need help with legal issues involved in the transactions they handle for clients, explained Michael R. Nall, AMAA founder.

Primerus member Brian Davidoff, a business lawyer with Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff of Los Angeles, was invited to speak to members of the AMAA at one of its conferences. That event prompted a conversation between the two organizations and led to the idea of partnership, Martin recalled

Nall said it was “immediately clear” that there were many advantages to members of both organizations in establishing a relationship because the services AMAA members provide are complementary to the services Primerus member firms provide. The strategic partnership is the first for Primerus and the second for AMAA, which also has a partnership with Loyola University that offers a high level, multidisciplinary certification program for middle marketplace merger and acquisition professionals, Niederman noted.

“By adding Primerus, we’re adding some enormously talented attorneys that can help our advisors as they put deals together and as they represent the business owners,” Niederman remarked. “It will really allow us to bring even more talent to business owners.”

Before a firm can be accepted as a member of Primerus, it is heavily screened and then accredited based on its commitment to six principles: integrity, excellent work product, reasonable fees, professional education, civility and community service.

Primerus, for example, will contact eight professional references of each applicant firm, check with malpractice carriers to make sure the firm doesn’t have a troublesome claims history, and check with the disciplinary agencies of each state to ascertain whether any disciplinary actions have been brought against any of the firm’s attorneys, Martin explained. The association audits its firms annually to assure they’re in compliance and also requires them to hold a certain limit of malpractice insurance. Member firms earn the right to display the Primerus “seal of quality” in their marketing materials.

Member firms are granted exclusive licenses and a designated territory and pay a fee for membership in the organization. Before the end of this year, the organization plans to expand its geographical reach by adding new member firms in England and elsewhere in western Europe. In 2009, it intends to add new member firms in Asia.

To maintain a level of exclusivity in a given market, Primerus requires that each member firm be licensed in one of three practice areas: business/corporate/international practice, defense litigation practice, or plaintiff/consumer law practice. Primerus typically has one of each of those practice groups located in an average-sized market, Martin said.

Since laws can be different from state to state, Primerus members often refer to one another clients who have legal needs in other jurisdictions. If a member firm in upstate New York, for instance, had a business client who needed legal assistance for a manufacturing facility he owned in Detroit, the New York firm most likely would refer the client to the Primerus firm in Detroit.

“Clients often need legal opinion from local counsel, and that’s one of the beauties of organizations like Primerus,” Martin remarked. “We have geographic diversity.”

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