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Lawyers Bolt, Form New Firm

Peter J.W. Elstrom
Reprinted with permission from Crain’s Chicago Business
February 14, 1994
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In one coordinated blitz, 12 partners are leaving four Chicago law firms this week to establish a new labor law powerhouse.

The lawyers are departing some of the most prestigious firms in the city: Vedder Price Kaufman & Kammholz, Seyfarth Shaw Fairweather & Geraldson, Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon and Klein Thorpe & Jenkins.

The dozen partners expect to be joined by 10 to 12 associates after they formally establish the firm today.

Led by hotshots James Franczek Jr. of Vedder Price and William Sullivan Jr. of Seyfarth Shaw, the firm will be called Franczek Sullivan Mann Crement Hein & Relias.

"We're going to do labor and management law in a very concentrated way," says Mr. Franczek, 47. "We're not going to be multi specialized."

The difficulty for the firm will be to distinguish itself from a multitude of lawyers already vying to represent management in labor issues. Firms in the ring include giants like Seyfarth Shaw and Vedder Price, which picked up six former Pope Ballard Shepard & Fowle lawyers last week, and respected boutiques such as Laner Muchin Dombrow Becker Levin & Tominberg.

Mr. Franczek says he and his colleagues believe the new firm can carve out a niche because of its partners' experience in a handful of labor specialties and the flexible billing they plan to use.

The partners at Franczek Sullivan have years of experience. Mr. Franczek is a 22 year labor law veteran who represented the Chicago Public Schools in the 1985 strike and was chief labor counsel for Cook County under Board President George Dunne.

In billing clients, instead of sticking to the standard hourly rate that tends to reward legal lethargy, the firm will experiment with flatfee billing and retainers.

"In a small law firm, you really have control over the billing structures," says Anthony Crement, a partner formerly with Seyfarth Shaw.

One trend that should help Franczek Sullivan is an increase in federal regulations from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Family Leave Act that has created a growing demand for labor law specialists. That helped Seyfarth Shaw, the largest labor law firm in the city, grow 11% to 205 lawyers in 1993.

"This is a growth industry," Mr. Franczek says.

Franczek Sullivan lawyers also will benefit from solid reputations in their field.

"These are all very good lawyers as well as very good guys," says Kay Hoppe, a legal recruiter at Chicago's Credentia Inc.