MMBJ management includes voices of both seasoned and new attorneys

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 Left to right, Douglas A. Donnell, William A. Horn, and Benjamin A. Zainea of the Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones management team. Horn is the chair.

LEGAL NEWS  PHOTO  BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It often seems that there are as many management structures as there are law firms in this area.

Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones (MMBJ) follows a fairly traditional democratic model, with each member getting a vote at monthly meetings.

But the firm has benefited because its three-person management committee always includes the voice of a newer attorney.

Says Ben Zainea, who is starting his second two-year term as the junior member representative on the management team, “I would say there is a different perspective with the younger attorneys, but that there’s not a chasm so to speak. We’re pretty much in agreement and our concerns are the same most of the time. I think the firm is very good at being sensitive to the very im-

portant issues the younger people face.”

Doug Donnell, who has served on and off on the Management Committee for seven years, says the governing document establishing the management committee structure came about 20 to 25 years ago. “I think embedded in that structure was the notion that there would be a benefit to always having at least one junior member on the committee, both to reflect that group’s perspective on the firm and bearing in mind that they’re the ones who would be living with the outcomes of management’s decisions.”

Bill Horn, the third committee member and chair, adds, “Also, it’s a way of assisting in the continuity in the firm, with younger people knowing why decisions were made as they become senior members.”

All three said that an important part of serving on the committee is having the judgement to determine what they can decide versus what needs to be brought to the whole membership.

“There are some matters we can decide and there are some matters that either by our membership agreement or by our choice, we feel the entire firm should decide,” says Donnell.

 But are there statutory constraints about what must be brought to the general membership? Horn says that so far as he knows, the law is limited to dictating that each LLC or PLC must have a managing partner, but he and Donnell both turn to their younger colleague because business structure is his area of expertise.

“Well, the governing document is the operating agreement of the firm, and the law says we have to go by it.,” Zainea replies. “Other than that, I don’t know that there are too many constraints on decision-making.”

Zainea does indeed focus his practice on business; his undergraduate degree, with high distinction, is from University of Michigan School of Business Administration. He has been with MMBJ since graduation from U of M Law School in 1999. Not surprisingly, he is very involved with, and a past president of, the University of Michigan Club of Grand Rapids.

He offers general business and real estate law, banking, securities and finance, mergers and acquisitions, franchise law, and sports and entertainment counsel to his clients. He is also a member of the American Bar Association Franchise Section, and volunteers on the Board of Senior Meals.

By contrast Doug Donnell is a litigator and specialist in environmental law, and his clients include both private and public sector.

He received his bachelor’s in Economics from Miami University, graduating magna cum laude, and his law degree, with honors, from Boston College Law School. He has received all manner of honors and was the Grand Rapids Lawyer of the Year in Environmental Litigation in 2012.

As profiled in the Aug. 8, 2012, edition of the Grand Rapids Legal News, Donnell won an important decision for his shareholder clients in the case of the notorious Cyberco and Barton Watson.

Bill Horn’s work focuses on another aspect of environmental law, working with the oil and gas industry, water and riparian rights, eminent domain and public utility law. He is also at times a civil and administrative case litigator.

Graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison both for his bachelor’s degree, with honors, and his law degree, cum laude, Horn speaks often at seminars and continuing education sessions, and has been widely published in his areas of expertise.

However, the Management Committee members say that there is not really any attempt to diversify the practice areas when electing people to the committee. The main qualification is an interest in the business end of running a law firm with about 50 attorneys.

Zainea comments, “It’s an excellent education to see how a business runs. I remember when I started  on the MC [Management Committee] being a bit surprised to see the kinds of issues that come up, but it really helps me as a business lawyer in recognizing some of what my clients face.”

Donnell points out that the firm’s day-to-day operations are handled by their staff, particularly mentioning Victoria Kobza-Sotak, the Director of Administration. “But we tend to look at the bigger picture, longer-term issues to bring to the membership,” he explains.

An example is MMBJ’s recent acquisition of a firm in Manistee. (The firm also has satellite offices in Caledonia and Rockford.) The final decision was made by the whole membership, but that was after the Management Committee did “the spade work,” as Donnell calls it.

The work of running MMBJ is also accomplished through a committee structure, with such standing committees as marketing, lawyer recruitment, and mentor-mentee. The Management Committee also appoints task forces from time to time.

Another example of an ongoing issue the management faces is that, in terms of the new versus seasoned attorney divide, most younger lawyers are used to typing their own materials based on comfort with computer technology. The committee must decide, working with the entire membership what that means for policy in hiring support personnel.

While Zainea sees other important areas that concern younger attorneys, such as flexibility about in-office hours, he adds, “It’s not necessarily like I come to the MC meetings and advocate for the younger attorneys, it’s just me having that perspective. I do have a lot of interaction with people newer to the firm, but I think we’ve always  been very good at doing what they think would be fair.”