Dan Baldwin 2013-01-16 04:04:58
Getting Clients What They Need When They Need It John Gilbert of Alvarez & Gilbert, PLLC Alvarez & Gilbert, PLLC, located near Loop 101 and Raintree in north Scottsdale, serves individuals, families and businesses throughout Arizona. The firm’s attorneys have decades of experience in providing services in commercial and contract litigation; construction and lien law; real estate transactions, including loan workouts; business formation; buying and selling businesses; arbitration and mediation; and personal injury. The firm was formed in 1993 when Don Alvarez and Jack Warner asked John Gilbert to join the firm. Warner retired shortly thereafter. “I played flag football with Don and a number of other now prominent attorneys for a number of years on a team naturally called the ‘Torts.’ When the firm I was then with dissolved, Don asked me to join him. We have thrived together since,” says Gilbert. Steven G. Ford joined the firm as a partner in 2008. Alvarez & Gilbert’s client base is diverse and it is difficult to define a “typical” client. For example, last year the firm represented a large regional developer (six western states) that had been sued for a $20 milion tax refund that had been put into receivership. Then it also has its share of run of the mill cases. “We represent contractors, home builders, banks and clients in the hospitality industry as well as a lot of ‘mom ‘n pop’ operations. The diversity of the clients we represent and the nature of the work we do keeps our interest keen. An advantage of my practice is the wide spectrum of clientele ranging from individuals, to small businesses, to corporate entities. It’s the nature of our practice to be multi-faceted. It’s not just real estate. It’s not just foreclosures. It’s not just contract litigation. Every day it’s something else. Consequently, you’re less likely to get bored, even after having been doing it for 36 years. It’s really kept it interesting.” He notes that the fluctuations in the economy don’t affect the firm as much as other firms that are highly specialized. “We have been protected in part because of our variety of practice areas. So, for example, when real estate took a hit a few years ago, a lot of firms that were exclusively real estate related firms struggled. We didn’t because we had other strengths. That diversity of the practice was invaluable.” “Oftentimes I’ve wished to be more specialized, more focused, and that’s what all the marketing seminars teach, and that’s good as long as that specialty is doing well. A lot of real estate lawyers became bankruptcy lawyers a few years ago. The many faces of our firm’s practice have helped create a constant flow of business without serious upturns and downturns.” Gilbert’s primary focus is real estate. “I enjoy real estate. It’s certainly pertinent in Arizona where real estate is so critical to our growth, to our enduring success as a community. Real estate has been the lifeblood of our economy for so long. Plus, real estate has enduring value; we only have so much of it. And the law of real estate is truly interesting – the way it has evolved and developed.” Don’t Win the Battle while Losing the War The firm’s approach to litigation always puts the client’s interest first. “There have been occasions where it seems lawyers are acting more for their own interests than those of their clients. They seem more interested in winning the battle, but perhaps at the risk of losing the war,” Gilbert says. Alvarez and Gilbert maintains a policy of being fair, honest and candid with clients. “Putting the client’s interest first sometimes means putting our own interests second. It’s an absolute responsibility, but I often see lawyers seemingly not adhering to that.” He sees less of that attitude in recent years and gives credit to the state bar for conducting seminars on professional civility, noting that they have had a very positive impact on the bar. Although some people question the effectiveness of those seminars, he believes lawyers have taken them very much to heart. The firm’s goal is to create win/win scenarios. “We don’t typically engage in “scorched earth” tactics in litigation. That’s not always the smartest way to go. Rather, ‘Let’s sit down and start talking and get reasonable and strive to learn and solve the core dispute.’ Our philosophy is to be aggressive yet tempered by a reasonable, seasoned approach.” Competition is always a concern for any business. The diversity of the firm’s legal experience and the depth of its personnel gives them an edge, says Gilbert. “I don’t necessarily view other lawyers or firms as competition because I’m not out there scrapping to get clients.” Approximately 80 percent of the firm’s clients are referrals, primarily from other attorneys, accountants and existing clients. The firm does not conduct extensive marketing efforts but over the years has relied on doing good work for a reasonable fee which in turn has created a favorable reputation. Gilbert says, “We don’t feel like we’re in a competitive environment. The fact is, of course, we are. But we try to be smart. We’re aggressive when we need to be and tempered, when we need to be reasonable and that often is a judgment call. I have a friend who handled a case through appeal and he did a magnificent job, but from beginning to end it easily cost $100,000. I asked him, ‘Did you ever collect anything?’ He said, ‘No.’ So, you have to be reasonable in so far as recognizing the true objective and the risk-reward component from the client’s perspective. You have to consider the legal fees you’re charging your client as part of the formula for where you stand and whether this case is beneficial to the client. Essentially, if a client spends a ton of money and wins a ruling but doesn’t achieve his ultimate goal, has he won? He has ‘won the battle, but lost the war.’” “I have a lot of clients who are appreciative of what I do because I can take a reasoned approach to problems, which is a down to earth approach. It’s not limited to what’s provided in the books; there are people involved, we strive to achieve a resolution of the problem so everybody benefits. It’s all about shaping a win/win result.” Getting Clients What They Need When They Need It The needs of clients are changing, often dramatically and rapidly. Legal firms must adapt if they are to continue, says Gilbert. Gilbert sees the law becoming more challenging for lawyers because of the age of the Internet and the advances it has brought. It is getting easier for clients to perform many simple legal tasks that in the past would typically necessitate an attorney. He believes that people are more savvy and educated and tend to resort to the use of lawyers on issues that are more difficult to resolve. For example, more and more people prepare their own simple wills, form their own LLC’s or corporations and handle their own divorces. It’s only when they get into trouble, sometimes trouble they have created, that they seek legal counsel. “I see a lot of ‘bread and butter’ work of firms being taken on by clients. That means we just have to work harder on the projects we are engaged to handle because they are that much more challenging.” But one thing that will never change is Gilbert’s response time in returning calls from clients. If he can’t take the call immediately (which he usually does), he’ll be sure to call the client at the first opportunity, which will usually be within a short period – and always the same day. “Our job is to acknowledge that change is there and to adapt. Be prepared to accept the challenge and be prepared to work that much harder. We don’t have a ‘factory’ where we’re turning out the same kind of work day-by-day, something that’s basically just repeat work. Like a top athlete, we always have to be at the top of our game.” Alvarez and Gilbert began as a small firm and they plan on maintaining the philosophy that smaller is better – growing organically as dictated by the needs of their clients. “We have always liked remaining small. We don’t want to be much larger than five to seven lawyers. It’s a very collegial atmosphere. It’s manageable and we can effectively work as a team, sharing ideas and drawing from the strengths of each other. It works because it’s very personal. The staff we have working for us are smart, have great work ethic and are like family. All of us enjoy sports and are very health conscious. Parents coach their kids, adults stay active by working out, and the firm actively supports sports events such as golf tournaments and softball leagues. “This is truly a benefit for our clients because our clients know our staff. They know they can call them, communicate with them directly and can get what they need. They’re comfortable working with us on all sorts of levels. We exude a certain confidence and knowledge of what we’re doing, in part because we’ve done so much of what we’re doing in the commercial world,” Gilbert says. “The overriding philosophy of our firm, quite simply, is to help people, to solve their problems in the most reasonable, efficient, cost-effective and expeditious fashion possible. That’s really what it is all about. That’s where my satisfaction in the law comes from. Making a living doing it will naturally follow.” “The best part of practicing law for us is helping people. Don, Steve and I really enjoy that.”
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