Like a phoenix Featured

11:54am EDT March 11, 2004
When financial troubles caused the closure of 160-year-old law firm Arter & Hadden last summer, its corporate culture spurred the firm's re-creation as Tucker Ellis & West. The new firm retained most of Arter & Hadden's employees and its downtown office space, and developed a new business model.

Tucker Ellis & West Managing Partner Robert C. Tucker says there was a very strong sense among the partners and the clients of the former Arter & Hadden that longstanding relationships matter, and they didn't want to walk away.

"That's why we stayed at Arter & Hadden through the tumultuous times," he says. "And that's what caused the new firm to be formed."

The birth of Tucker Ellis & West was a long and scary process, with a lot of uncertainty. When his employees asked what was going to happen to the firm, Tucker used a fog analogy: It was difficult to see that far down the road, but he knew that if they stuck together, the fog would eventually begin to clear.

"As there became a greater clarity, we were able to address their questions, like, 'Will I have a job? Will I have a paycheck? Will I have health care benefits? Will I have a 401(k)?' All of those issues are so important," he says.

During the dissolution of Arter & Hadden and the creation of Tucker Ellis & West, the firm took several steps to avoid the spread of rumors among its employees. Management scheduled meetings that included everyone "to make sure that everybody heard the same thing at the same time." Tucker also tried to ensure that each employee was involved in a personal conversation with a member of the transition team.

"I wanted to make sure that everybody felt like they mattered," he says.

That made a difference. Tucker says enthusiasm for solving big problems comes from people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in. And employees -- sparked by the fact that longstanding relationships would not have to end -- provided that enthusiasm for the new firm.

"There is a true watershed moment where you say, 'We're going to learn from the past, and we're going to do things differently,'" he says.

Tucker is pleased that one year later, so many of Arter & Hadden's associates remain with Tucker Ellis & West. He says their faith in the firm is due to the fact that they have the respect of the partners with whom they work.

He says that in many law firms, associates don't feel like they matter except as sources of revenue. They aren't being trained, they don't feel like they are progressing in their careers and they aren't given opportunities to expand their horizons.

"In the Cleveland office of Arter & Hadden, and even more so in the new firm, we have tried to put in place training programs for associates that are different," he says. "We tried to encourage lawyers to introduce associates to clients. I think that in many ways, our associates came to believe from this whole transition that they actually mattered." How to reach: Tucker Ellis & West, (216) 592-5000 or www.tuckerellis.com


Grace under pressure

Managing Partner Robert C. Tucker draws on his experience with last summer's closing of Arter & Hadden and its rebirth as Tucker Ellis & West, and shares five tips business owners can use to keep their company together during a crisis.

* Remember that employees are people, too. "You need to make them feel that their concerns matter and that their worries matter. They need to know that their being scared matters to you ... I believe that more than anything, this is about people, and they need to feel that everything is going to be OK," Tucker says.

* Address crisis resolution with a personal touch. "You need to communicate in person, not in writing. People need to see you, hear you and talk to you. During crisis management, you need to make yourself available to them."

* Don't make it up as you go. "Tell people if you don't know the answers to their questions, and tell them that as information develops, you will share it with them," he says. "People will sense if you're not being forthright."

* Have a clear-cut strategy for resolution. "If you have a plan to resolve your crisis, you need to be able to clearly communicate it. That plan has to be accepted by your leaders, and once they have accepted the plan, they need to be able to articulate it (to other employees.)"

* Be a leader worth following. "You have to earn your employees' trust by being honest. You'll never get them to follow the plan if you're not honest with them," Tucker says.