The growth of RCA Document Control Group is highlighted in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. Read the article as a PDF here. Western law firm has unique practice group hereRelatively young business helps law firms with litigation support services.
By David CzurakGrand Rapids Business Journal Copywright 2011 Gemini Publications - Posted by Permission
The Document Control Group, a practice area of the Ryley Carlock & Applewhite law firm, celebrates its first anniversary of being in Grand Rapids this month. But the practice actually turned six at the beginning of this year in Arizona. Matthew Clarke and his partner,Bill McManus, started DCG in early 2005 in Phoenix. The practice group was founded then because some corporate clients were involved in lawsuits that required a review of thousands and sometimes even millions of documents that pertained to their cases. Because having to review that many documents can often overtax the legal staff of a law firm hired to represent a client in the discovery process, Clarke and McManus saw an opportunity.
"They have to hire lawyers to do those document reviews. In a typical scenario, you hire a lawfirm to represent you in some matter, and at some point in time. You need 20 or30 or 10 extra lawyers to do a document review, whether it's looking at boxesof documents or e-mails. When that happens, you go out and hire some contractlawyers who do the work and then they're gone," said Clarke. "That's a very frustrating scenariofor corporations because if it's nine months later in the litigation and youhave a question about that work, those people are gone and you can't go back tothem and ask them what they did. So clients came up to us and said, 'We wantyou to build us a solution. We want you to give us a handful of lawyers who arealways going to be available to do our document reviews for us. We want itpriced right and we want them always around,'" he said.
So Clarke and McManus began hiring attorneys to reviewdocuments, while both continued with their litigation practices. As thebusiness grew, they added more attorneys and the DCG became a full-timepractice group at Ryley Carlock & Applewhite. "It's like having access to a fleet oflawyers on an as-needed basis, and they really liked it," said Clarke ofthe corporate clients the group had then.
"Then other law firms started using us. So there wasthis organic growth that was very rapid. We went from a handful of lawyers in2005 to over 100 today," he said. "We were pretty selective about whowe hired because what made us different was that the people who were workingfor us were part of our team and were always going to be around. We couldn'thave a lot of employee turnover. "So we had to steer away from hiring people who were just out oflaw school and were very ambitious and eager, who maybe would be looking for adifferent type of job and would leave in six or eight months. Then we wouldn'thave the stability that we were selling that was so important toour quality."
Clarke said a typical candidate for the DCG is a lawyer withfive or six years of experience who isn't looking to move on, or is retired andplans to stay put. But the business had grown so much so quickly out West that he and McManus had exhausted theirlist of candidates there and had to look to other regions in the country. Solving that predicament is how the DCG came to Grand Rapids -- to 801 Broadway Ave. NW, specifically, in the American Seating complex. Clarke, who lives in Spring Lake and grew up in West Michigan, said he is "obviously biased to this area." He said when he received resumes fromlawyers in this region, he always interviewed them because he knew theycame from the "good work ethic" that exists here.
"What we found is we were pulling so many people fromthis part of the country that I said, "Let's go open up an operation there." Wecan better service our East Coast clients and it would be easier for us to drawpeople from that side of the country-it's easier to draw someone from Chicagoto Grand Rapids than from Chicago to Phoenix," he said.
Clarke said he and McManus did due diligence on the city andbrought the firm's managing partner in to look over the local market beforethey committed to Grand Rapids.
"I basically convinced my partners that this was a goodplace to set up this operation versus anywhere else on the other side of theMississippi," he said. "We opened up this operation in August of 2010.Since then, we've had a lot of success and we have a lot of people working forus."
When the DCG was in Phoenix, Clark said it only performedlitigation support services, such as document reviews, fact researching anddeposition summaries-all things done by lawyers. But since coming here, he saidthe operation has added a coding business, which broadened its work force toinclude paralegals and administrators. The coding section employs 30 people.They join the 40 attorneys that bring the DCG staff to 70.
The DCG'sclients have changed since it began. Clarke said whenthe operation started about 80 percent of its clientele were corporate entitiesand 20 percent were law firms. Since then, though, he said those percentageshave reversed, and now about eight of every to clients are law firms.
"This is an area that is very new in the practice oflaw," he said. "A lot of our clients, especially law firms, basicallysaid this is kind of a niche business and you guys have it figured out. Youhave figured out a way to do it very efficiently. You're helping us reduce ourrisk, and you do it in a cost-effective way that helps my clients .... It'sjust easier for them to have us do that, and because we're brick and mortar,they don't have to carve out the space."
Besides Phoenix, Ryley Carlock & Applewhite also has anoffice in Denver. It carries a legal staff of more than 1OO attorneys, and hasbeen in practice for more than 60 years.
"We're a full-service firm, meaning we have a taxdepartment, a litigation department, a real estate department, estate planning,water and natural resources, etc.," said Clarke, who has been ashareholder and litigator with the firm for 11 years.