Human Resources and Law

Law firm adds office managing partner to GR staff

New manager Bob Sikkel says Barnes & Thornburg’s local office offers hub for aviation law, other practices.

May 5, 2017
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Bob Sikkel has practiced labor and employment law for more than 30 years. In that time, he has come to understand the responsibilities and challenges human resources professionals face.

He said it was a natural fit when his longtime firm, Barnes & Thornburg, appointed him to the nationwide management committee and selected him as the office managing partner for the Michigan office, at 171 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 1000, in Grand Rapids.

“Working with labor and employment clients, you’re working closely with human resources professionals all the time, and you recognize the challenges they have day-to-day managing. You’re watching the best practices as well as seeing how businesses operate,” Sikkel said.

“It has been a tremendous opportunity for me to observe and apply those principles in my role here as office managing partner.”

Sikkel also is administrator of the Grand Rapids Labor and Employment Law Department and has an active labor and employment practice.

He handles collective bargaining; grievances and arbitrations; National Labor Relations Board guidance; labor strategies for mergers and acquisitions; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state agency charges of discrimination; Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs matters; hiring, discipline and termination counseling; Family Medical Leave Act concerns; in-house training for supervisors and managers; and development of union-free strategies and tactics.

The duties of office managing partner scratch the managerial itch for Sikkel, but he said he doesn’t consider himself the boss of any of the 35 lawyers and support staff in the local practice; it’s more of a partnership.

“We have a culture of cooperation and collaboration,” Sikkel said. “As the office managing partner, I have responsibility for … staffing, recruiting, community activities and marketing.”

Sikkel said each of the 13 offices of Barnes & Thornburg, located coast to coast in the U.S., covers the major practice areas common in most places, and some offices have specialties. The Grand Rapids location is no different.

“We have labor and employment, corporate — which includes merger and acquisition work — environmental, banking and finance, intellectual property, aviation and private wealth management,” he said.

The local branch also offers legal expertise in government services work, import/export laws, corporate compliance issues, insurance recovery claims, white-collar criminal defense and renewable energy.

He said Grand Rapids is the epicenter for the firm’s aviation law practice.

“The reason for that is our (aviation) practice group is headed up by Cliff Maine, who helps a bunch of major corporations both here in Michigan and beyond that he has built relationships with,” Sikkel said.

“A number of our clients have aircraft, and that’s a very specialized area of the law,” he said.

“There’s, in addition, a number of aviation-focused companies here in Grand Rapids who have their own fleet, and that feeds the practice, as well. (We handle cases related to) aircraft regulation, buying and selling, leasing and liability.”

Maine serves as general counsel to aviation organizations, including the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority. He has led numerous aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements, interchange agreements, joint and fractional ownership agreements, personal and executive use policies, FAA registrations, Capetown International Registry and aircraft leasing transactions.

He also represents clients in aviation lawsuits. Sikkel said it’s too soon to discuss any specific cases.

Part of the firm’s vision for the Grand Rapids office is to offer affordable services for clients.

“Firmwide, we have a focus on how we can add value,” he said. “We have created a suite we call BT ValueWorks, which is professionally staffed and dedicated to pricing, project management and (communication).

“We are outcome-oriented. We work with (clients) to establish a budget at the outset, so they have an awareness of what can be done.”

As West Michigan’s only firm on the Am Law 100 list — an annual ranking by The American Lawyer publication of the top revenue-grossing firms in the U.S. — Sikkel said B&T is able to offer clients connections to services in all of its other offices without having to leave West Michigan.

“One example would be our Washington, D.C. office, which provides legal and governmental advice with matters involving the federal government,” he said. “The D.C. office has been active and growing since the November election … and it’s a real opportunity for our clients in Grand Rapids, that whether they have a regulatory need or a lobbying need, we can tap into our D.C. office.”

Sikkel said the Grand Rapids firm works to connect clients with attorneys with the appropriate expertise, whether that means sending business to the other offices or handling the matter in-house.

“We can do it through video conference, telephone or in person as need be. For many attorneys, even though the client is local, everything is offered, even if it’s not in a face-to-face meeting.

“Clients have been very receptive and appreciative of that approach.”

Sikkel said his lifelong passion for helping clients navigate the law isn’t going anywhere.

“I had an interest in law going back to my high school days, and I come from a family where there are no lawyers, so I can’t pinpoint where it came from. But I never wavered from it, throughout college and law school, and I’ve never regretted that decision.

“I knew once I saw the labor and employment practice, I knew that was for me, ever since I was a first-year attorney.”

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