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Becoming a full-service law office

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Best Best & Krieger LLP has a unique business model. Our law firm successfully represents two distinctive client bases -- public agencies and private enterprises. While many firms service one or the other type of client, BB&K provides a full range of services to both.

F. Gregory Pyke (left) and Shawn Hagerty of Best, Best & Krieger LLP.

Working for public agencies provides our firm with a solid foundation. Public clients have consistent legal needs in good business times and bad, and this makes the practice a good buffer in recessions. Public agencies also pay their bills in a dependable manner. The work is interesting, and recruiting attorneys to join our firm and practice public agency law has never been a problem.

Private clients typically pay higher rates, but the fees can take longer to collect. The work is cyclical and can lead to slow periods. However, there are many experienced transaction attorneys and law school grads eager to work in the area.

When merged together, the representation of private and public clients can be a great fit. Public agency work provides a steady base that keeps our firm solid during uncertain times, while private litigation and transaction work increases revenue and promotes greater growth during good business cycles.

The model, which BB&K has used for more than 100 years, works well for our firm; we have experienced healthy growth and profitability. Today we have eight offices, 180 attorneys, 30 of which are in San Diego, and for the past two years have ranked 31st in terms of size on the California Lawyer's "Big 50" 100 law firms list.

BB&K was founded in 1891 as a full-service law firm to meet the legal needs of businesses and public agencies in the Inland Empire area. The firm opened its San Diego office in 1993, with the long-term goal of locally replicating BB&K's successful business model. The office founders were public attorneys, including Mike Cowett, Arlene Prater, Bruce Beach and Jim Gilpin, and had significant experience working with cities, counties, water districts and special districts.

Thanks to the commitment of these attorneys and others, BB&K San Diego prospered and developed a significant public agency law practice. In the early years of our office, a major milestone in our business plan was reached: the establishment of a school law group with the hiring of William "Woody" Merrill and the relocation of Dina Harris from our Riverside office.

Today we have one of the largest public law practices in San Diego. Our clients include the cities of Santee, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, San Diego and National City; Helix Water District and the Sweetwater Authority; Metropolitan Transit Development and the North San Diego County Metropolitan Transit Development Boards; Oceanside, Poway and Vista Unified School Districts; and many more.

Adding a business practice has been a long-term process for us. In the early days of the office, we focused primarily on what the attorneys at the firm were experienced in -- public agency work. Six years after the firm opened, we hired our first private sector attorney, Rob Hanna, whose business litigation experience added a new and welcomed dimension to our cache of services. This was our first step in expanding our full service capabilities and proved to be quite successful.

In June of 2004, we further expanded by inviting Cyndy Day-Wilson to join us. She has built a successful practice providing litigation and business counsel to clients involved in federal and state environmental matters. Her expertise is also beneficial to our public sector clientele.

Best Best & Krieger San Diego then had the expertise to provide business clients with litigation and environmental law services, but we were eager to become truly full service.

We realized that goal in April of this year when F. Gregory Pyke joined our firm. He is well known for his business and real estate transaction work. He also has an extensive client base, has worked at large and midsize law firms, where he has held management positions, and he knows the San Diego community.

Pyke is the first key acquisition in completing our private sector practice and we hope, over time, to hire more business attorneys and grow that practice. There is also the potential for continued extensive growth in our public sector practice and we plan to expand in that area also.

Cross-selling services is an important component of a successful full service firm. Maximizing the services that clients use builds a more successful firm than focusing solely on bringing in new business. While it may not be immediately obvious, public and private clients share legal needs and are ripe for cross selling. Pyke's expertise in general business and particularly in real estate transaction work will be a great benefit to our public clients, as Day-Wilson's environmental expertise has proven to be. Our office's public agency experience in the areas of labor and employment (which has been serving select business clients for several years), general litigation, construction, entitlement, natural resources and records retention will benefit private clients.

Finding the right attorneys to transition a firm into full-service status isn't as easy as it may sound. For several years, our firm had looked for an attorney or group of attorneys to incorporate into our office. We had the advantage of time because BB&K San Diego wasn't in need of being fixed -- we were looking to take a successful office and make it better.

Beyond having the specific experience and client base we were looking for, we needed an attorney whose personality, professionalism and business style was a good fit with ours. Over the years, we talked with several good candidates and have been fortunate in finding excellent attorneys to join us.

I became managing partner of BB&K's San Diego office in January 2005. The previous local managing partners -- Scott Smith, Mike Cowett and Jim Gilpin -- had overseen the rapid growth of our office, and through their hard work, had built a firm rich with experienced attorneys and staff that has a culture of collegiality and a strong commitment to and respect for clients.

As a managing partner, an attorney continues to practice law, but also takes on many roles: leader, administrator, strategist, counselor and more. The varied responsibilities are what make the job interesting. As BB&K's local managing partner, I was entrusted with the process of evolving our firm into full-service status, and it has been educational.

The needs and demands of private clients have not been fully addressed in our office until now. Private sector attorneys think differently than public attorneys -- their clients' needs are different and their thinking reflects this. Our office is quickly making adjustments to better support these needs. It has been an exciting experience and one that I have fully enjoyed.

Looking forward, our plan calls for wise and steady growth in all areas of practice. We're confident that we'll meet, if not exceed, our goals and look forward to the journey.


Hagerty joined Best Best & Krieger in 1996. In addition to being the San Diego managing partner, he serves as both general and special counsel for municipalities and redevelopment agencies.

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