Dan Baldwin 2014-03-07 11:11:45
The size of a legal firm is not a limiting factor in handling complex legal matters and, in fact, can be a powerful asset, says Paxton Guymon, partner in Miller Guymon & Toone, P.C., of Salt Lake City. The firm practices business and commercial litigation, real estate litigation and transactions, commercial banking representation, corporate bankruptcy and reorganization, and select personal injury claims. “Appropriately staffing the case from the very beginning, having the right people working on it and assessing it from the perspective of how the case will be presented at trial is essential. One of the advantages we utilize is having the trial attorneys involved in cases from the beginning as opposed to having a large staff addressing different aspects of the case with trial counsel coming in later. When we get to trial, the trial attorneys know the case from the ground up. As a smaller firm, we can do this handson approach as, or more, cost effectively than the discrete staffing approach used by some larger firms,” Miller says. “We have a two-pronged goal: to efficiently get a case to trial, and to master every element of that case before entering the courtroom,” Toone says. Miller and Toone focus on trial cases involving business disputes, whether for companies or individuals. Miller also provides bankruptcy and reorganization services for both debtors and creditors. Guymon practices in the area of real estate transactions and litigation. The partners find that the areas of the firm’s practice are very complimentary. “Real estate, reorganizations and business disputes often overlap. For example, Paxton has been involved in substantial litigation involving real estate and business issues,” Miller says. “We’re involved in cutting edge cases against cities. There are some novel issues of law we’re involved with in our representation of developers and builders where cities are the defendants. I think these cases will be instrumental in shaping future policy in state and city governments. They involve topics such as development entitlements, impact fees, development agreements, and basically holding cities accountable for the legal standards they are supposed to follow,” Guymon says. The partners don’t believe in pigeonholing legal services – the practice of limiting an attorney to a single practice area. Guymon cites his own experience. “I’m somewhat unusual in that I do real estate litigation work as well as transaction and land use work. I’ve found that my real estate clients like the fact that I can do their real estate work and their transactional work. They appreciate the faster response, the flexibility and the cost savings, too.” “My partners and I came from large firms and we firmly believe we provide the same top level of service, but do so on a more client-tailored basis. We put a lot of value in personal contact,” Guymon says. According to Guymon, the bottom line is always putting the clients’ interests first. “We have to do the very best job we can to protect their interests, achieve their objectives, and achieve the best results possible.” All three agree their approach allows the firm to provide the services of a large firm, but at the rates clients expect from a smaller firm. Taking the Personal Approach Miller Guymon & Toone has embraced the “small firm” philosophy – finding real value in the intimacy of individual client attention – something, they feel is often missing in the delivery of legal services. “We genuinely like our clients. Typically, they are more than clients, they are our friends. We care about their matters as if they were our own,” Toone says. Blake D. Miller practices in the areas of complex commercial litigation, business litigation and bankruptcy (debtor and creditor rights). He earned his Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, from Boise State University and his Juris Doctor from the University Of Utah College Of Law, order of the coif. Miller says, “I most enjoy being in court. Although you have prepared the case, there is always something unexpected that happens in court. It is critical that you can think on your feet and react. It is not dissimilar to our outside hobbies. For example, Barry and I love sport motorcycle riding. Whether on the track or in a canyon, there is no alternative to providing full attention to the task at hand. Trial is no different.” Paxton R. Guymon practices in all areas of real estate law, including real estate litigation, land use and zoning, subdivisions, land acquisitions and development, real estate finance, condominiums, owners associations, and real estate transactions. Guymon graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Utah College of Law, order of the coif. Certain skills and training in his private life provide benefits to his clients in his professional life. “I really enjoy endurance athletic events. I do Ironman triathlons. That spills over into my professional life because I like to compete. I like to excel and I can endure to the end,” Guymon says. Miller Guymon became Miller Guymon & Toone, P.C. in 2014 with the addition of Barry C. Toone as partner. Toone is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School where he was editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. He has represented some of the nation’s largest and best known corporations. He has argued large and complex cases throughout the country at the trial and appeals level. Toone brings the firm considerable experience in product liability defense and has experience with sophisticated work for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Toyota and Volvo. Toone says, “The biggest asset of the small firm environment is the ability to control cases from beginning to end. We look at a case, at its inception, with the goal of taking it to trial – not with the goal of settling. If settlement occurs, we believe the settlement achieved will be better for our clients because we have prepared the case for trial. That’s a very different approach from some firms. A lot of lawyers work cases to obtain a settlement. We prepare our cases for trial.” Offering Positive Options Without Negative Features Personalized service, greater flexibility, fast response times and lower hourly rates are all characteristics the firm strives to bring to each case. The formula works well for this boutique firm as their client base has been built completely on repeat business from existing clients and from referrals. Blake Miller and Paxton Guymon were lawyers at the firm of Ballard Spahr, a large regional firm headquartered in Philadelphia that had an office in Salt Lake City. Guymon says, “We found that we worked well together. Our practices were complementary. We kept running into conflicts of interest with the other practice areas at that firm, so we decided it would be better to leave and start our own firm. We did that in March 2003. We started off with three attorneys and we have slowly added more. Now, we have 10 attorneys.” One of the firm’s early challenges was trying to find an identity and establish a sound position for a new and small firm in a highly competitive marketplace with many well-established and recognized competitors. “I have never worked so hard as I did in those first several years of the firm making sure that we did the very best for our clients, to bring in new work, to basically make sure that the firm was going to succeed. It was very trying to establish a good reputation, find our identity and become functional – and to do all of that while still practicing law,” Guymon says. Today, the biggest challenge for the partners is trying to manage the multiple responsibilities required of them – practicing law and carrying out their leadership duties. Time management is a particularly challenging matter. Guymon says that most of his time is still consumed with providing legal services for his clients. At the same time he and his partners must make time to monitor what the other attorneys are doing for the firm’s clients and supervise those activities. The Past as Future Guymon predicts that the way Miller Guymon & Toone, P.C. has been practicing business for more than a decade will be the preferred way of doing business in the future. “More and more I see clients becoming savvy and making informed decisions as to whom they are going to hire. I think clients are beginning to realize they don’t need to hire the biggest and most expensive firms and oftentimes they get better customer service by hiring boutique firms who are really interested in a personal level of service. I think the legal profession as a whole is going to see a decline in the large conglomerate law firms as clients become savvier in making decisions as to who to hire. I think our firm is very well positioned to meet those needs,” he says. “The best part of it, the part that is most personally satisfying to me, is to have our firm, an organization that we created and that we run, accomplishing good results for our clients. It’s very satisfying to see that we have created something that is effective and that gets the right results for our clients. Sometimes clients come to us and they don’t know what to do. They’re in a panic. They’re in distress. We’re able to work out a solution – sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years, but it is very satisfying to get that end result and resolve problems. That’s really the best part,” Guymon says. The firm has no plans for expansion – they know that the culture they’ve established is exactly what they want to deliver. Guymon says, “We’re at what I consider the ideal size. We have 10 attorneys and we have the manpower and the resources to handle complex cases, yet we’re still a family.”
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