Firm's rebranding effort already paying dividends


By Linda Laderman
Legal News

After a quarter of a century providing financial advisory services to a number of professions in the public and private sectors, Stout Risius and Ross (SRR) has launched a rebranding effort that aims to raise the company’s profile in newer markets, while retaining its core commitments to pro bono and community initiatives.

“Our old brand and related logo - SRR - were developed on the back of an envelope,” said Jeff Risius, one of the firm’s three founders. “Our rebranding won’t affect how we deliver legal services, but it will help us raise awareness in our less mature markets.”

Now known as Stout, the company’s pro bono practice often works with attorneys, government and nonprofits to develop financial analyses that benefit underserved populations.

Founded in Southeast Michigan, Stout is a longtime platinum sponsor of the Oakland County Bar Association’s Signature Event, the organization’s major fund-raiser.

“Our core values are Midwest values,” Risius said, adding that having a pro bono practice in the financial services profession is “very unusual.”

As part of its pro-bono program, Stout recently wrapped up an effort in conjunction with the State Bar Association of New York.

To help determine the potential costs of providing legal counsel to New York City’s low income renters facing eviction, Stout contributed to a study that aimed to establish how tenants, while still low income but above the poverty level, could qualify for a publicly funded attorney.

Led by Ray Roth, a director in the firm’s Detroit office’s Dispute Advisory & Forensic Services Group, the study looked at the success factor of low income litigants involved in landlord-tenant disputes who were represented by counsel.

As he researched the situation that drove the study, Roth took time to visit the NYC neighborhoods where landlords wanted to oust their rent controlled tenants and replace their housing with new high income developments.
“It was eye opening for me,” said Roth, who is also a certified public accountant. “We found that the eviction rate decreased by 77 percent when an attorney was present.”

According to Roth, a report to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, specifically identified how the city would be better served by providing an attorney for the tenants in question.

“Before this study the city really didn’t know how many cases existed or what the benefits or costs of self-representation were. We had to think outside the box – what was driving the cost of eviction,” Roth said. “We were able to show that the benefits were not limited only to tenants with attorneys. By reducing the eviction rate the city would decrease its homeless shelter costs, its cost of building new affordable housing and unsheltered homelessness would likely decrease.”

Aside from crunching the numbers, Roth realized that, for him, the process shed a new light on entitlements.

“I was skeptical at first but when I looked into it I was amazed at what I found. Eviction rates were highest in areas with new development because the landlords had to clear out the old tenants,” Roth said. “Buyout offers weren’t enough because tenants couldn’t find affordable replacement housing. And, if the buyouts didn’t work the landlords would turn off the heat or stop cashing rent checks so they could say the tenants were behind in their rent.”

This past February, based in part on the study’s recommendations and de Blasio’s affordable housing initiatives, the mayor signed into law a plan that provides qualifying families and individuals with legal representation in housing court.

Under the plan, New York residents who are making less than $50,000 a year, for a family of four, will receive free legal representation in housing court. Those who fall just above the poverty level will receive free legal counseling.

“Our report helped to change the way others thing about landlord tenant issues,” Roth said. “I was incredibly proud of our work. I ended up finding a lot of passion I never knew I had. As I looked into it I realized how having access to justice could make these New Yorker’s lives better.”

Whether or not a study like the one Stout did for New York would be relevant for Detroit is a question Roth said he has yet to definitively answer.

Citing Michigan’s “Campaign to End Homelessness,” Roth said Detroit could realize a benefit from a similar study by looking at those who are evicted with no place to go.

“I don’t know if people are being forced out of their homes like they were in NYC,” Roth said. “I’m still looking into it, how something like this could be applicable in my own backyard.”