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A legal web Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002
Assisting business owners with new enterprises is run-of-the-mill stuff for most law firms practicing in the corporate arena.

But when a client requested help opening a venture in South Africa, the attorneys at Kahn Kleinman Yanowitz & Arnson knew they were out their realm.

That didn’t mean they couldn’t help, however. Kahn Kleinman is part of the Commercial Law Affiliates, an association composed of 5,000 attorneys in 210 law firms representing 70 countries. Helping in this case meant referring the client to a South African law firm.

“We called, sent an e-mail, and about an hour later we had the company formed,” says Richard Rivitz, a partner with Kahn Kleinman. “They’re a South African affiliate and (together) we could get things done. The same thing happened in Japan. We needed some answers on how to do some security offerings in Japan.

“We called our affiliates there and we were able to get answers just off the top of their heads that were extremely valuable, that made it possible to go ahead very quickly because of that.”

As business is increasingly global, more and more companies are requiring that type of work.

“The need to have reach all over the place used to be only a problem of the very biggest firms,” says CLA Executive Director Wendy Horn. “As technology has made it easier and cheaper to be in multiple places at once, the number of times you need to find a lawyer somewhere else has increased. Companies literally don’t have the time to do due diligence on their own to track down a lawyer.”

In the last few)months, Kahn Kleinman has referred nearly 20 clients to firms in other cities or countries.

“The main reason that we joined, and the one that is still the driving force, is to serve our existing clients wherever they need to be served,” says Rivitz. “We can pick up a phone to a law firm basically anywhere in the world. The CLA network gives us the opportunity to make referrals to organizations that have the same philosophies and size and response parameters that we like to think we have.”

When a client is referred to a CLA member, the attorneys at Kahn Kleinman can be assured the client will be treated well. That was the case when a client was being sued in Minneapolis, Rivitz says. The referral firm took the case and did a “fantastic job.”

That left the client happy and Kahn Kleinman happy, and the referral firm received fees for a case it most likely wouldn’t have seen except under those circumstances.

What separates the CLA from other legal affiliate organizations is the review process.

“The CLA has asked several firms to leave that don’t match up to the standards,” says Rivitz, who has served on the organization’s board of directors. “We don’t like to see that happen, obviously. If clients are unhappy with a referral, the whole thing doesn’t work. It’s all about serving clients. If clients aren’t serve, then there’s no reason for the organization to exist.”

The CLA is a nonprofit organization with a staff of 10 and an annual budget of about $1.6 million. Member law firms pay dues, ranging from $1,500 to as much as $15,000, depending on the size of the firm and the city in which it practices, to be a part of the affiliation.

In addition to providing quality services to clients wherever they do business, there is also the issue of competitiveness.

“We’re an option or a way for independent law firms that aren’t part of a giant firm to be competitive with their clients that need help increasingly all over the world,” Horn says. “What’s happening right now in the legal industry is that the various firms are merging into larger groups, so there are fewer players and fewer individual law firms. And it’s because clients, even small clients, are selling their products or performing their services all over the place at once.

“Technology has made those smaller companies be able to be global that much faster.”

It’s a trend that will only continue, says Horn.

“In the past, giant law firms may have followed just a few giant clients around the world setting up offices wherever they were doing business. Now medium-sized and even small companies are selling their product or distributing it in 50 countries at once.

“You’ve got all of these law firms that are trying to merge so that they’re bigger and so they can afford to service these clients all over the place.”

How to reach: Commercial Law Affiliates, (612) 339-8680; Kahn Kleinman Yanowitz & Arnson, (216) 696-3311

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.