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Providence law firm sees growth potential in nearby market
James W. Litsey
Position: Partridge, Snow & Hahn LLP, Partner-in-Charge, SouthCoast office
Background: Litsey has been practicing law for more than 20 years focusing in the areas of corporate and real estate lending, real estate law, creditors’ rights, general business law and commercial transactions, including information technology and process outsourcing agreements. He is active in the Providence Preservation Society and the Rhode Island Zoological Society, among other organizations.
Education: University of Kentucky College of Law (1983), University of Kentucky (1978)
In September, Providence-based Partridge, Snow & Hahn opened an office at 700 Pleasant St. in downtown New Bedford.
The move is a signal on the part of the business law firm that it sees potential for real economic growth in the region. The SouthCoast area includes the following cities and towns: Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Marion, New Bedford, North Dartmouth, Somerset, South Dartmouth, Wareham, Westport and Westport Point.
According to a recent market research report produced for the law firm, there are 7,000 existing companies in the area. Of those, 164 have 50 or more employees and revenues of at least $2.5 million.
Q. Why New Bedford?
A. We had been looking at New Bedford for almost two years before we decided to open an office here. It is part of our firm’s long-term strategic plan to grow our firm. We looked at different markets and a number of ways to expand our presence. The reason we focused on SouthCoast is really what we perceive to be an opportunity that exists here for a number of different reasons. Some of those relate to the opportunity for this market to really grow and prosper. A lot of things have been happening here. In the past five years, there has been a certain energy level here that we thought was conducive to bringing the economic activity here to the next level. For example, the possibility of bringing the rail (MBTA) down here to the Fall River/New Bedford area … that would be a huge economic boom. We think that will eventually happen, though we don’t know what the time frame may be. The statistics show that there has been economic growth in this market. The primary reason, though, from the business leaders who we met with – like accounting firms and other professional service providers – was that there was an absence of a major law firm presence in the marketplace.
Q. How many people are working out of this office?
A. Right now we have four people dedicated to this office. It’s our intention to try and grow the practice here. And certainly, those people are not going to be the only ones servicing clients here. Our goal is the same as it is in Providence – to grow as our ability to generate business allows us to grow.
Q. Did you personally lobby to head this office?
A. My personal goals and background seemed to be a good fit for this office and so I volunteered. It’s an opportunity for me to go out and build a new office in a new marketplace. That’s appealing … the opportunity to get to know new people. New Bedford is a warm place. The people I have met have been very friendly.
Q. Has the firm done business here in the past?
A. We’ve been in this market for some time. We have clients here whom we serve. But every business reaches a time – especially professional service firms – where you want to serve your clients in the best possible way, by being there.
Q. How will this office be similar to and different than your Providence office, in terms of client mix?
A. In terms of our strategic marketing plan, this office will be modeled after our office in Providence. Obviously, the market here is different, but we are not trying to be everything to everybody. In Providence, we are primarily a firm that serves middle-market businesses with an emphasis on, if anything, regulated industries. That’s where our expertise lies. What we’re trying to do is to serve the same types of businesses in this market.
Q. Does this expansion help when you go out to recruit lawyers to come work at the firm?
A. It does, in that it shows a commitment by the firm to take a long-term growth strategy. For young lawyers, they want to be with a firm that has a vision of existing beyond the current generation of partners.
Q. Partridge, Snow & Hahn has made a point of emphasizing community outreach. Is that even more important as the firm works to establish roots here – to get off to a good start, so to speak?
A. It does. And we’re as committed to that here as we are in Rhode Island. We plan to get involved in a number of not-for-profits.
Q. What specific steps do you take in this early stage of carving out a niche in the community … in terms of establishing a presence?
A. In a market this small, it’s fairly easy to do. You try to identify the business and community leaders. Our goal was, if we didn’t know those people, to get to know them. The strategy is to establish a network with the key business leaders, but also to make sure that we are attending events and try and be in the places where our potential clients may be so that they are aware of our firm. Initially, we are trying to develop name recognition in the marketplace. In addition, we have a fairly extensive print (advertising) campaign, with mailings to local contacts. We have a fairly large network of contact that was developed in the two years prior to us opening this office.
Q. What are you hearing from business leaders here in terms of the economy? Are they the same issues that come up in Providence and in Boston?
A. One big difference between the two states, and so it really isn’t the New Bedford market, is the byproduct of the size of Rhode Island and the role of state government relative to the size of Massachusetts and the role of state government. There does appear to be a much greater political machine in Massachusetts, in that you have … the role of politicians appears to be much more important here than it is in Rhode Island. That’s the sense I get from business leaders – that maybe government plays too much of a role. I don’t know if that is necessarily true or not.
Q. How will you know from a business perspective that opening a business here was the right thing to do?
A. Our goal is to become the law firm in this region – the SouthCoast region – that business looks to when they have an important issue facing their company. Whether that be buying another business or a big litigation matter. When we are at least on the short list of firms to be considered, we’ll know. We’ll know that the deals are out there and if we are hearing about them after the fact then we’ll know we are not being as successful as we could be. And when we’re involved in the planning and the major transactions taking place in this market, we’ll know we are where we want to be.
Q. Is there a time frame for success here?
A. We obviously have a budget and we have projections in terms of what we think we are going to be able to do down here. We have not set any kind of threshold that says, ‘If we don’t do XYZ, we’re pulling out of the market.’ We’re here for the long term. Whether we’re still four attorneys in two years or eight attorneys … that will be some evidence of our success – but even then, not necessarily. If we can bring the right people here, we will. But we’re not going to bring in lawyers for the sake of making the office look bigger. Our strategy is really based on specialization. The difference between a firm like ours and a smaller firm is that those firms do not have the luxury of really specializing for the most part. They are general practitioners. And while we all may work in several different areas of corporate law, we also have some people who are highly specialized and everyone has some area of specialty. And we’re not just competing with the local firms. We are competing with firms from outside of the market. Some of the things we want to do in this market are probably being done by Boston firms or out-of-state firms. We want companies to know that they now have an option.
Q. Does New Bedford compare more closely to Providence or Boston?
A. I think it compares more to Providence. It’s a smaller city. When it comes to politics, business … everything. There is just a closer-knit community here than you would find in Boston, or even than you would find in Providence. There is a nucleus of people in New Bedford who are incredibly dedicated to stimulating the local economy. In Providence, you have the same thing. In Boston, I’m sure you do as well, but it has to be on a much larger scale. This is just such a small city and it is easier to get to know those people – and that’s really how you get to the heart and soul of a city.