Hilger Hammond moves to historic building to accommodate growth



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

“We’re really excited about the new space, but I think we’re a lot more excited about the people,” says Ben Hammond about Hilger Hammond’s move to the beautiful 220 Lyon St. building and its newly hiring three attorneys and one paralegal. “The people are the number one asset of the firm.”

Hammond emphasizes that the growth spurt which necessitated their move has been in the plans for years. It includes the very recent hires Bob Cooper, Jill Miller, Justin Wheeler and Cathy Greer, as well as attorney Chris Nyenhuis, who started about a year ago.

Hilger Hammond, in business for over a decade (see the 10/24/2018 Grand Rapids Legal News for an article on their ten-year birthday celebration), was started by three experienced attorneys – Stephen Hilger, Hammond, and Aileen Leipprandt. The firm quickly narrowed its focus, though never exclusively, to the construction industry.

Mark Rysberg joined the firm, and later Dan Hatch, which meant that almost all the attorneys were litigators, with differing percentages of their time spent on litigation, mediation, arbitration, and transactional work.

New paralegal Cathy Greer focuses on litigation support. With 25 plus years’ experience, Greer will assist in formulating and executing litigation strategies, and work with documentary evidence.

But another cause for Hilger Hammond’s excitement is how much the new attorneys’ expertise expands the services it can offer.

The process had already begun with Chris Nyenhuis. Though also a litigator, Nyenhuis has a broad range of clients well beyond the construction industry, including manufacturing, finance and technology.

Robert P. Cooper brings a strong business law background and in particular an emphasis on estate planning.

Hope College brought him to this area from his native New Jersey, and after graduating magna cum laude from Dickinson School of Law, part of Penn State, he returned to practice in Grand Rapids and never left.

Cooper, who has served as “in-house” counsel for many local family-owned businesses, was first at Varnum and then, since 1999, on his own.

“Bob’s been around for 40 years, and has just developed a great network and relationship all over town. We had worked together the past couple years and were referring cases back and forth, so his joining us just made sense,” comments Hammond.

Jill Kaufman Miller is an experienced business and real estate lawyer. The well-credentialed Miller completed a B.A. in Economics at University of Michigan, a M.B.A. (summa cum laude) from Loyola University of Chicago, and a J.D. at Loyola’s School of Law. She advises business on financial matters and strategic planning, and is licensed to practice in Florida and Illinois as well as Michigan.

“She’s doing awesome work in those other states as well,” Hammond says.

“And Justin is just doing a great job,” he adds about Justin Wheeler, who also focuses broadly on all types of business and reat estate matters. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, after having gotten his B.B.A. in Business Management from Davenport University College of Business.

There are plans for Steve Hilger’s son Andy to join the firm after he graduates from law school in December.

“We’re already exploring where we may expand next,” comments Hammond. “Our main mission has been to provide services to the construction industry and related fields, and when we first started doing construction litigation our clients would be buying another company or some real estate, so we kind of naturally expanded. And those boundaries are continuing to expand, so, as an example, we’re sometimes hearing a need for employment law, so we may hire a dedicated person for that or for yet other related areas of law.”

He adds that Leipprandt, Rysberg, and Hilger are all certified mediators, so, “we’ve really been pushing that as a firm even if only so we have a better understanding of how it works. Most cases settle, and a lot of cases settle through the mediation process,” he says. Hammond himself is close to getting his certification as a mediator.

Hammond was on hiatus from his award-winning work with the Grand Rapids Bar Association for a couple of years, but is now the GRBA vice president, which means he is in succession to be president in two years.
“There are always new issues and challenges that pop up, so I’m looking forward to these next years.”

Hilger Hammond will host an open house at its new offices on Sept. 17, to which everyone in the Grand Rapids legal community is invited. It offers a chance to see not only what is now called The Exhibitors Building at 220 Lyon St. N.W. – which is on the National Register of Historic Places – but also the trendy, and functional, geometric decor the firm has chosen  for its  dark gray and white interiors, offering an interesting contrast.