Credit-able Featured

1:36pm EDT June 19, 2003
With the daily deluge of credit card applications and offers the average consumer receives, it's sometimes hard to believe there was time not so long ago that credit was not so easy to come by.

"It wasn't until sometime in the '60s that banks decided to get into the consumer credit industry," says Bob Weltman, managing partner at Weltman, Weinberg & Reis. "Before, it was mostly retail and oil companies."

Weltman, who joined the firm where his father was a partner, realized the potential to create a niche practice that offered collections and legal services to creditors on credit cards and loans.

Under Weltman, the firm, founded in 1930 as Gardner & Spilka, expanded from collection services and bankruptcy to include foreclosures, litigation and probate collections.

"A traditional law firm has one or more support staff per attorney," says Weinberg, adding that only 80 to 90 of his more than 750 employees are attorneys. "We are more of a business than a traditional law firm because of the ratio of non-lawyers to lawyers."

To handle the volume of work for the expanding firm, Weltman trailblazed in an area many attorneys have yet to really embrace -- technology. The firm is now updating its entire computer system. The technology is customized, the process is taking over two years and the price tag is approximately $2 million.

"Technology is really a driving force for us," says Weltman. "In order to manage the volume, we had to be highly computerized. Our work requirements are much tighter than the collections agency. We are expected to do the same work and operate at the same efficiencies, but because we provide legal services, we are audited."

The ability to litigate is one of the firm's point of difference from a collections agency, but it also poses challenges. Laws in each state are different, and marketing for law firms is restricted.

Weltman has no plans to rest on his laurels, which include eight offices in three states. Expansion is always on the horizon, but like a true entrepreneur, he continues to train new partners himself.

"I enjoy working the files as much now as I did the first day," he says. How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., (216) 685-1040 or www.weltman.com