fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Ron Urbach > The benefits of being ‘other’

The benefits of being ‘other’

Davis & Gilbert’s chairman on why the New York firm is the antithesis of Big Law and the importance he places on offering clients value-added service

Ron Urbach

How would you define your firm’s culture? How important is firm culture to you?

Our culture is a reflection of our firm’s history and core values, grounded on the concepts of family – care, respect, understanding, integrity and service; history – learning from and respectful of the past; entrepreneurial spirit and business focus; and always putting the client first.

Having a strong culture provides a competitive advantage in the legal marketplace and allows our firm to focus outward – on clients and their needs, not inward.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm in the past few years that will benefit clients?

We have continued to focus on the firm’s strategic vision and invest in core practice areas of the firm: (1) advertising and marketing sectors and related areas of the law; (2) core competencies of real estate, including leasing, retail, and developer; (3) labour and employment practice, focusing on the– financial services, marketing and communications, hospitality and various service sectors; (4) middle market M&Amp;A; and (5) creditors’ rights and insolvency.

Our strategic vision and how we train our team supports the overall objective of providing client centric service. We strive to be the modern era counsellor. Our attorneys provide not just excellent legal work but superior client service, value-added knowledge, and practical judgement and experience—all at the highest levels. Our training programme and internal structure are designed to ensure consistent and top-notch delivery of client service.

You’ve remained a firm that is compact and focused on core areas. Do you see that as the firm’s future, or are you looking at expanding your reach?

Law firms are undergoing fundamental changes, which will result in two types of firms in the future. One of them will be the super large firm that provides geographic distribution and reach with large numbers of attorneys in multiple locations. The other type will be a mid-sized firm, characterised by strategic focus; ‘best of the best’ industry/legal expertise, experience and specialised knowledge; practical business-focused judgement and client service; control over costs and overhead; and a strong culture.

Davis&Gilbert is the ‘other firm’. Our strategy is to provide added value to all that we do for our clients. Within our core competencies, we provide knowledge, experience, and expertise for both the law and business practice. We provide judgement and insight; we provide information and guidance; and we provide excellent legal work. This is fundamental to who we are and in terms of the current state of the law firm industry, this makes our firm the right firm at the right time.

The firm has a strong track record of organic growth. What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

The attraction of the best talent at all levels is critical for our firm. The fact that our firm has a strong culture, well-recognised areas of excellence and provides great opportunities for advancement allows the firm to both recruit and retain nothing but the best talent. We also are committed to cultivating a diverse workplace, which is vital in recruiting and retaining talent and providing our clients with the widest range of ideas, experiences, and approaches to address their issues. When you add to this mix a strong combination of compensation and work-life balance, it is a winning formula.

The firm is best known for advertising and marketing practices – in an increasingly changing digital market, how to you ensure the firm stays ahead of the game?

What is fundamental in the marketing and advertising sectors, and their relevant areas of law, is fast-paced change with leading edge creativity and technology. Working as a lawyer in this area means that there is always a level of uncertainty. This means that answers may not be clear cut and business practices may be of first impression.

The only way to keep up with this fast moving industry is to be inextricably and consistently involved in all aspects of the business, the practices and the law that applies. This includes practicing law in the advertising and marketing sector in high volume, covers an expansive range of matters (from Lanham Act claims to agreements to regulatory disputes), with multiple clients across all industries, in all types of media (traditional, social and digital), content, forms, and styles. It also means deep industry involvement and staying current on the newest technological, business, and regulatory developments.

Davis&Gilbert is recognised as an industry player in the advertising and marketing space. Our expertise and thought leadership is regularly sought after in emerging areas such as data privacy (including the new California Consumer Privacy Act), mobile advertising, cross-device tracking, and influencer marketing.

The firm’s industry experience contributes to our knowledge, expertise, and judgement that, combined with an unparalleled history and work in the space, allow the firm to be on the leading edge. We are and remain the tip of the spear in all that we do.

Differentiation is critical to buyers of legal services – how do you stand apart from the rest of the market?

We provide exactly what a client in today’s legal marketplace seeks – the highest quality legal knowledge, deep industry expertise and experience, industry-recognised leadership and superiority, value-added service and advice, superior personal service, consistency and stability in firm structure and personnel, strong culture and identity, entrepreneurial and innovative action, and a passion for delivering the best and being the best.

Our industry involvement is a huge value-add to our clients. It allows us to provide practical, business-oriented advice because we truly understand our clients’ business and their objectives. The firm’s structure is the antithesis of the global, multi-office firm that focuses on growth by lateral partner acquisition and corporate takeover – both of which have the negative consequence of driving up costs and negatively impacting law firm culture and focus. Instead, Davis&Gilbert offers a positive culture with stable personnel that result in an efficient and cost-effective delivery of legal services.

What do you think are the top three things most clients want and why?

Clients want a trusted advisor who (1) understands and knows their business, (2) can bring expertise, experience and specialised knowledge; and (3) can provide practical, reasoned judgement to help clients make effective and successful decisions.

Since becoming chairman, what has surprised you most, either internally or externally?

My role is different than many other chairpersons in that I have a full and vibrant client practice. I have the benefit of a strong chief operating partner and an active management committee that allows me to perform my duties as chairman and to continue to focus on clients, new business, and strategy for the firm. There have been no surprises because my senior leadership team is incredibly talented that we have been able to continue along the strategic pathway of the firm to even greater success.