Sumner Schick LLP: Sharpening the Cutting Edge on the Future of Law
By Dan Baldwin
The future of law is bright for those attorneys and firms willing to not only embrace change, but to take a leading role in it. Such is the position of Sumner Schick, LLP, says Justin V. Sumner, managing partner.
“We’re building a futuristic law firm that’s truly on the cutting edge. We have extremely talented and experienced attorneys in so many different verticals, that ultimately we’ve become a one stop shop for our clients. When you have an expert in transactions you have an expert in litigation, you have an expert in employment law, you have an expert in health care compliance and regulatory, corporate and employment law, and experts in other areas, you have a real full-service law firm. Add to that the latest in technology, hybrid officing with full remote video conferencing capabilities, and attorney and client convenience, you’re not only on the cutting edge, you’re leading it.
During the coronavirus pandemic Sumner Schick a pure civil litigation trial law firm since 1986 pivoted direction out of necessity purchasing its first stand-alone building in the Uptown area of Dallas and diversifying its practice.
“You either embrace change and progress and adjust or you may just get left behind,” Sumner says.
Founding Partner Steve Sumner, Justin Sumner’s father, who excelled in the traditional manner of practicing law, was at first slightly tentative about the new approach, but upon touring the new facility and seeing how well the attorneys flourished in the new environment, became an enthusiastic believer in the new direction.
The high level of legal talent drawn to the firm’s cutting-edge approach is exemplified by their newest partner, Amanda L. Bridson.
“For the first time, we named a new partner and after working with Amanda for seven years, I can say she is absolutely invaluable not only to the firm, but to our clients,” Sumner says. “It’s amazing to hear multiple general counsels say that she is the smartest lawyer they have ever met. That’s the direction we’re going.”
Bridson, who has experience in plaintiff and in defense work, handles a wide range of disputes on corporate matters, such as information technology outsourcing agreements, non-solicit/non-compete agreements, employment matters, whistleblower/qui tam claims and trade secret misappropriation.
We’re building a futuristic law firm that’s truly on the cutting edge.”
Sumner believes the days of the huge, massive and unwieldy law firms operating in huge and hugely expensive offices are fading and fading fast. Covid shutdowns and the resulting slowdowns in business and business practice contributed to the trend. But the trend was already well underway prior to the pandemic. Savvy law firms and law firm managers took note and learned from the trends.
“I think that all firms are going to have to adjust. Successful firms will have to be more flexible with their client’s needs, but also to the evolving needs of aggressive and more entrepreneurial attorneys who are attracted to leaner, more efficient, more effective and also more profitable ways of doing business. Those attorneys, and the clients who follow them, will naturally gravitate to those more aggressive firms. Hopefully ours because we’re hiring and want the best out there. We want the best lawyers with the best clients who are tired of giving the bulk of that revenue over to the firm. We are the exact alternative to the old way of practicing law.”
Times are changing dramatically and rapidly. Our type of attorneys … are excited about embracing it.”
LET LAWYERS BE LAWYERS
One of the attractions of the firm and one of the reasons they maintain their cutting-edge reputation is their management style – a style that encourages entrepreneurship, responsibility, and client services that are not weighed down by outdated ways of conducting business.
Sumner notes the emergence of video conferencing, remote witness interviews and non-key witness depositions conducted by video platforms, and other technologies are changing the face of business in dramatic and, for Sumner Schick clients, in faster and more affordable timeframes. The old way of doing business is dead or dying, especially in commercial litigation. Before the pandemic, the firm’s attorneys would fly all over the country to witness interviews and take depositions and defend depositions and argue hearings. Sumner considers that way of doing business a dead end. He understood quickly that clients want and deserve the best service, but they are no longer willing to pay for someone else’s overhead to acquire it. What put him and his firm on the cutting edge was his willingness to adapt to change.
The firm’s managerial style is as progressive as everything else. They focus on productivity, but within an extremely laid-back atmosphere. Attorneys are treated as professionals who have proven themselves capable of producing success reliably.
“I tell people who join us, ‘You went to law school, you worked hard, you earned that degree.’ We respect everyone up here and we treat them like the professionals they are. It’s a very macro managerial style. But again, we don’t have to micro-manage because the people at our firm all carry their weight. It’s such a collaborative environment that we almost know what the other person is thinking and that everyone knows their role,” Sumner says.
Attorneys from larger firms joining Sumner Schick say they enjoy being just a lawyer again. They embrace not having to attend unnecessary and sometimes repetitive committee meetings and having to deal with an awkward bureaucracy on a daily basis. Sumner says, “I think our firm’s edge is our tremendous experience in major litigation, and the ability to be flexible and nimble responding to client needs. I’ve actually had one of our biggest corporate clients say to me, ‘You guys are the only firm that gets back to us this quickly.’ Our philosophy is simple – we get the best clients by finding, hiring and inspiring the best attorneys. We let our lawyers be lawyers.”
If You Build It, They Will Come
Perhaps the most dramatic physical symbol of the firm’s position in the marketplace is its position in the physical business environment. Sumner says the future of the law is clearly reflected in the two-story, glass office building.
“I also think the big firms oftentimes have so much overhead, office spaces, leases, and they’re passing that expense on to the client. That was a big factor in our decision to buy this building and spend 16 months renovating it according to where we see the future needs of our organization going. And we were able to cut our overhead expense by two thirds. We have not raised our rates to pass on an outrageous overhead to our clients. Our efficient way of doing business is reflected in our billing and in our results. Our clients love that. They know they are getting white glove level legal expertise and they’re not getting gauged for it. That’s why our clients have stayed with us often for decades.”
The effect on other attorneys is dramatic and immediate. Sumner relates the visit by a managing partner in a big old-school firm in Dallas who came by the new building for a visit. He was surprised that the office was directly on the trolley line and had its own parking lot.
“He said, ‘Oh, my God, this is refreshing.’ Those are his words. And he said, ‘I want to talk with you again. I am so tired of having to be in this committee and that committee and meeting with this committee. He said, I just want to be a damn lawyer again.’ We are in a position to remind people why they got into this line of work in the first place,” Sumner says. “Being a lawyer can be fun and rewarding again.”
Building the Future of Sumner Schick
Expanding service is to Sumner Schick an essential element of their expanding future.
Sumner Schick has represented a range of companies from the mom ‘n pop company to Fortune 500 companies in all areas of litigation, from employment law to, to contract disputes, to trade, secret misappropriation – virtually all areas of commercial litigation. The firm has also successfully handled Qui Tam/whistleblower action, employment actions, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and high-profile civil rights cases.
The methods for conducting business on the cutting edge will allow more firms to become more regional firms, instead of just a one city firm.
“We’ve always just been in Dallas. But now with the ability of video conferencing and accessibility and the team’s messaging platforms, you are able to open up other locations and get into other markets that you in the past couldn’t have done unless you open up a brick and mortar or sign a big lease. And, you know, that’s a big jump for a small firm. And I think that that is where the future is going. I think you’re going to see more boutique and smaller midsize firms opening up locations regionally, for sure, and maybe even nationally,” Sumner says.
Within the immediate future, Sumner Schick will open an office in Northwest Arkansas in the Fayetteville area and possibly in Little Rock. They are also opening a new office in Austin.
“Times are changing,” Sumner says. “They’re changing dramatically and rapidly. Our type of attorneys are entrepreneurial, fast-paced, see the future of law and the direction it’s going. We’re excited about embracing it and will remain on the cutting edge in developing the future of the law firm.”
You either embrace change and progress and adjust or you may just get left behind.”
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Dallas, Texas 75204
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