VSRaig Lubben and Robert Wolford become Co-Managing Members on January 1 of the Grand Rapids-based law firm Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC, succeeding outgoing Managing Member Craig Mutch. Wolford and Lubben will oversee the firm’s management and strategy, serve on the five-member management committee and continue their respective legal practices. Wolford, based in the company’s Grand Rapids office, will lead customer service strategies and market development. From the Kalamazoo office, Lubben manages business functions that include chairing the executive committee and overseeing long-term business and operational interests.
Why share management tasks?
Lubben: As we were anticipating Craig Mutch’s retirement, we appointed a succession committee earlier this year made up of members at various stages in their careers, and the focus of the group was really to look at how we are structured.
This group concluded a couple of things. The first is that it is useful for the Managing Member to be a practicing lawyer, as this helps to provide insight into what lawyers need to be successful in providing service to the client and hopefully this will help us be more efficient in ensuring that they have these Resources. Second, it became apparent that the position of manager member was full-time and above.
The conclusion of the group is that it would be useful to divide the position and have someone focused on the external market – the needs of the customers and trying to make projections on the evolution of the market and what we have to anticipate – and them to have someone else working internally to make sure we structure ourselves to help meet those needs. Dividing it would allow us to gain the benefits of continuing to practice law while serving in that role, but also to ensure that we maintain a good perspective on client needs.
When talking to corporate clients, what are their top concerns in 2018?
Lubben: It depends a lot on the sectors. You talk to our manufacturing customers, NAFTA and how international trade will unfold over the next 12 months is something they are very concerned about. Health care is something that every business is concerned about. Right now, for our business owner clients, tax reform and its impact and, more importantly, when it will start to have an impact – whether in 2018 or 2019 – are all factors that concern them or very focused on.
How has the West Michigan economy helped the firm recruit new legal talent?
Wolford: It worked to our extreme advantage. Our commercial section has experienced significant growth over the past five years and this is largely due to Miller Johnson becoming a destination law firm for the region’s transactional talent, as well as some of the busiest private equity and family office groups in western Michigan and the Midwest. As we’ve developed that kind of momentum, the level of talent that wants to come here has been really impressive.
Lubben: West Michigan’s economy is doing well, so it’s an attractive area, and frankly, as a business, we’re doing well. The move to the new building (Arena Place on Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids in 2016) also created energy. A lot of things came together to make attracting and retaining talent a really good thing for us.
How do you see the increased competition with new players entering the market in 2017?
Wolford: We’ve always had transplant law firms from Detroit or other regional firms that wanted to establish a physical footprint in West Michigan, so that’s not surprising to us. From our perspective, we are very comfortable with our physical footprint and roots in West Michigan and the focus on West Michigan has served us well. As our customer focus has expanded to Chicago, New York and other regions, they appreciate the value perspective of the Midwest. Businesses from other regions moving into this region are sort of facing headwinds in that regard which we feel are strengths for us.
What is your company’s biggest opportunity in 2018?
Wolford: We may not yet know what it is in the sense of what is happening with tax reform. I think there are a number of important opportunities that could arise from this. That said, in terms of areas of continued growth, the area of cybersecurity is something that we will continue to see being at the forefront of the minds of businesses, the minds of investors, and the minds of our customers. . We will continue to take on new challenges there and we have a cybersecurity practice group that has been extremely active in 2017, and we expect that to continue into the new year.
Lubben: Cybersecurity affects such a wide range of customers. We have a lot of healthcare customers and obviously they are concerned about securing information with patients. We represent certain higher education institutions. They are concerned about the security of their students’ information, as well as they have stores on campus and want to keep that information safe. This is a region that has been hot, and it will continue to be hot.
What’s on your mind for 2018?
Wolford: There are a handful of things that are potential concerns and I think a lot of them are manageable. The political environment is certainly a concern from a stability perspective. The economy has performed fantastically here over the last year and a half and make sure our elected officials stay focused on that and encourage business (that’s important), and not just at the national level.
At the state level, we’re going to have a governor’s race next year and we’ve got roads that need to be funded, and we’ve got an education system that needs to be depoliticized and properly funded so that we have workers to fill the jobs that we are going to create.
From a manufacturing perspective, we’re in year eight of a five-year automotive cycle. Will people continue to buy cars? While West Michigan’s economy has certainly diversified, its core remains manufacturing, in automotive and furniture manufacturing. If there was any significant correction or decline in this industry, it would be a challenge for the region.