Environmental Law Network links firms to build an organization of valuable connections

“Networking” may be an overused term among businesses today, but to Greg DeGulis, chair of the Environmental Law Network, it’s the organization’s touchstone.

It was the late 1990s when DeGulis, partner in McMahon DeGulis LLP in Cleveland, met with some other small environmental law firms at a bar association conference.

“We came up with the idea that maybe we should start a network of firms like ours to share experiences and refer clients to lawyers who have particular expertise,” he says. “That would give us a broader platform than what we could offer alone.”

From the initial handful, the ELN has grown to include 26 U.S. firms and six international affiliates

Across state lines

As chair for the last 10 years, DeGulis has seen many cases of how networking can cut through red tape.

In one instance, a client had a heavily contaminated site in New York, and the regulatory agency was being very aggressive toward the client to meet regulations.

“We then contacted a New York firm, which knew the particular regulator who was giving the client a hard time. The firm was able to turn things around relatively quickly,” DeGulis says. “There is no way we could have done that alone. We didn’t know how the regulator operated and what the regulator wanted to see. It really helped the client in that situation.

“The value is not so much in knowing the specific law, but who do you know at the local environmental agency — which often has more ability to shape things than the law itself. If you know particular enforcement personnel at that statewide agency, it is a big help.

“That is probably the network’s best benefit. A lot of the big firms can’t offer that in all states. We can. Sometimes when a client gets an enforcement order, the local firm will know the person issuing the order.”

Much a virtual entity

The ELN was the first environmental law firm network that makes local representation available worldwide. There are more than 250 environmental attorneys available to collaborate on legal representation for respective clients.

To belong to the network, each firm is screened first and pays annual dues. The network holds monthly conference calls so members stay in touch. DeGulis says the firms talk about substantive topics, news in their practice area and practice development issues. Sometimes there is a speaker on a particular topic. Members get together at an annual meeting.

The Chambers and Partners publication, in which the editors of the U.K.-based journal evaluate U.S. law firms and law firm networks, lists ELN as a Band One network, the highest level. The ELN is the only global environmental Law network recognized by Chambers and Partners. Many other member firms, including McMahon DeGulis, are also recognized by the publication in their respective states. ●

How to reach: Environmental Law Network, (216) 621-1312 or www.ELNonline.com