By Greg Paeth
Whether you’ve bought a ticket or not, Kentucky will have a front row seat in 2020 for round one of a high-stakes battle that may reshape how law is practiced in the United States.
Metropolitan Cincinnati, which includes Northern Kentucky, and Louisville and Lexington all have at least one thing in common: high-profile offices for Bingham Greenebaum Doll (BGD), the well-established and influential law firm that announced in October that it would become part of Dentons, a global law firm that has just under 10,000 lawyers on its staff.
That’s right, 10,000 lawyers, and about 1,100 of them will be in the United States once BGD and its 200 lawyers and about 150 more from Pittsburgh’s Cohen and Grigsby merge into Dentons early this year, in what is described as the first step toward creating an international law firm.
There’s nothing modest about Dentons’ ambitions.
Dentons, whose roots are in London in 1742, has announced that its effort to build a coast-to-coast firm has been labeled “Golden Spike,” a reference to the golden spike that was used to symbolize the completion of the country’s transcontinental railroad in 1869.
Bradley C. Arnett, managing partner for BGD in the Cincinnati metro area, was predictably enthusiastic.
“At launch, the combined Dentons firm will have offices in 33 U.S. markets, including nine of the 10 largest markets and 14 of the top 20,” Arnett said in an email. “Its headcount of nearly 1,100 lawyers will make it the 10th largest law firm in the U.S. Clients will have access to the experience and talents of more than 10,000 lawyers in 181 locations and 73 countries across the globe.”
“In the Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington and Indianapolis markets (as well as in Evansville and Jasper, Indiana), we will be known as Dentons Bingham Greenebaum,” he explained. “Importantly, the rate structure for our clients will remain intact, as we will have local autonomy of client rates and relationships.”
Growing the Cincinnati office, where BGD has five lawyers, is a top priority, he said.
“Our current goal is to grow to 40 to 50 lawyers here as fast as we can. We believe that we can achieve that target number within three to five years. As we execute on these growth aspirations, we will continue to analyze the best way to serve Northern Kentucky, including the potential for re-establishing a separate office in the area,” Arnett said.
“I congratulate them (Dentons) on coming to an arrangement with such a fine firm,” said Dinsmore chairman and managing partner George H. Vincent, whose Cincinnati-based firm was established in 1908.
While Dentons said it is in the process of building a national law firm, Dinsmore already describes itself as such, with 650 attorneys in 25 cities who are licensed to practice in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Some 240 of those attorneys work in the Cincinnati and Covington offices. Dinsmore also has offices in Frankfort, Lexington and Louisville.
“The Dentons question is interesting, and the jury is out on the long-term impact of BGD’s acquisition,” said J. Stephen Smith, president of the Kentucky Bar Association and an attorney at Cincinnati-based Graydon Law, where he is the firm’s market leader for Northern Kentucky,
“There is one view that Dentons’ entry into our market poses an existential threat to traditional Kentucky firms, and another that might view the move as acknowledgement that our market is growing very quickly. The reality is likely somewhere in the middle,” Smith said in an email. “Kentucky law firms were already competing with BGD lawyers, and a new name on the door does not change that concept. If activity in Kentucky is attracting the Dentons of the world to put down roots here, that is a good thing. It says good things about the commonwealth.”
- IT’S FREE | Sign up for The Lane Report email business newsletter. Receive breaking Kentucky business news and updates daily. Click here to sign up
Based on what Smith and other attorneys had to say about the legal services business in the metropolitan area during the last year, Dentons is moving into a region where there’s plenty of business – and attorneys.
The Cincinnati Bar Association said there are about 7,000 lawyers in a seven-county area that includes Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in Kentucky. Those three counties have nearly 1,350 practicing attorneys, Smith said.
Attorney Scott Guenther of Adams, Stepner, Woltermann and Dusing reported “significant growth in the areas of general business counsel, governmental practice, and general business and defense litigation.”
“We expanded our representation of cities and school districts by adding new governmental clients throughout the commonwealth,” he said.
“Our region has enjoyed a sustained period of general economic growth, which has spurred growth for our clients and many other local businesses. When a business is in a growth mode, that naturally leads to increased legal needs to facilitate that growth,” said Guenther, a member of the management committee for the downtown Covington firm with a 100-year history and 17 attorneys on staff.
Graydon Law has seen growth in the number of attorneys, the quantity of work, and increasing demands in newer areas, Smith said.
“Our corporate, executive benefits, real estate, employment, and banking lawyers are all historically busy. We have seen significant growth in cybersecurity, trade/compliance, intellectual property, and hemp-related fields also,” said Smith, whose firm has five offices in the region, including one in Fort Mitchell that dates to 1989.
The Northern Kentucky economy is strong well in advance of the 2021 completion of the Amazon Prime Air Hub near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Smith said. Construction began in May on the $1.5 billion project that is expected to create 2,000 jobs inside a 2.6 million-square-foot package sorting facility.
“Most believe, and I agree, that the ‘Amazon’ effect is just beginning. We don’t know the total number of direct Amazon employees, but the ancillary or feeder businesses are also going to explode,” he said. “Each ancillary business has needs, and all employees have needs from time to time. The legal landscape in Northern Kentucky is growing fast and a deep knowledge of the local market will be vital for companies relocating or expanding here.”
After adding seven lawyers in the last year, Graydon has 83 attorneys in the region and 13 are based in Fort Mitchell.
Dinsmore’s Vincent said 2019 proved to be a good year for his firm.
“The firm experienced growth in both headcount and revenue. We experienced growth across all areas of the firm,” he said in an email. “As the region grows, the demand for legal services naturally grows with it. Economic development is critical to growth in the demand for legal services.”
Yet another firm that wasn’t born yesterday enjoyed substantial growth last year in its offices in Cincinnati, Crestview Hills and Louisville, according to Robert Hoffer, managing partner for Dressman Benzinger Lavelle (DBL), the largest Northern Kentucky-based firm with
“Economic growth generally means additional opportunities for our clients and they may need our help to address zoning issues, regulations and transactional advice,” Hoffer said. “With the development in Northern Kentucky with Amazon and the urban core, we think we’re in a good spot. What we’ve seen with the revitalization in Covington and Newport is that we think clients can partner with us to work through issues that they have not faced before.”
DBL also made some national news when it filed suit earlier in the year against opioid manufacturers on behalf of 23 hospitals in the state, including St. Elizabeth Medical Center, which is a
“But we have all sizes of clients – St. Elizabeth’s all the way down to a mom and pop plumbing shop that might have 10 employees,” Hoffer said.
Some of the legal firms located in the region include:
Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing PLLC
Barron Peck Bennie & Schlemmer
Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP
Bonar, Bucher & Ranking PSC
Bramel & Ackley PSC
Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP
Cetrulo, Mowery & Hicks
Cors & Bassett LLC
Dressman Benzinger LaVelle PSC
Fessler, Schneider & Grimme LLP
Freund, Freeze & Arnold
Frost Brown Todd LLC
Garvey Shearer Nordstrom PSC
Gerner & Kearns Co. LPA
Greta Hoffman & Associates
John D. Christopher Jr., Attorney at Law
Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL
Kenton County Attorney
Legal Shield/ID Shield
Nielson & Sherry PSC
Novakov & Associates PLLC
O’Hara Taylor Sloan & Cassidy
Raines Dusing & Sutton PLLC
Reminger Co. LPA
Richardson and Vogt PLLC
Stites & Harbison PLLC
Strauss Troy Co. LPA
The Sanders Law Firm PSC
Thompson Hine LLP
Wallace Boggs PLLC
Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA
William E. Hesch Law Firm LLC
Wolnitzek & Rowekamp, PSC
Wood & Lamping LLP
Wood, Herron & Evans
Ziegler & Schneider PSC
Information provided by Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. This is not a comprehensive list.