Varnum and Law Weathers join forces, both bringing long and illustrious histories

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Two firms with a lot of history in the Grand Rapids area will join Jan.

1 and make new history together.

Varnum, founded in 1888, will welcome Law Weathers, an even older firm which traces its roots to the year 1855, meaning it is the oldest firm in Grand Rapids.

The union is not much of a stretch, either in terms of client relationships and culture or in terms of geography: not only have Varnum and Law Weathers been at Bridgewater Place together since 1993, but the two shared prior occupancy at the former Old Kent Building, starting in 1966.

The bond between the firms which formed through Bridgewater Place were important to the leadership of both.

Varnum’s incoming Chair David Khorey said, “We all park in the same place and take the same elevators, so our lawyers have formed a lot of close relationships with their lawyers. It was a nice, natural fit.”

Adds Mike Roth, President of Law Weathers, “I can tell you that our firm over the years has had a lot of offers. When I joined in 1996  I became privy to stories of firms really repeatedly reaching out to us, wanting to do business together. One of the reasons we’ve resisted is that it’s so difficult logically, but this is so much easier — going in, we knew each other very well from a personality standpoint and from a talent standpoint.”

And Scott Huizenga, who was Varnum’s Chairman as the deal was being forged, stated, “As neighbors in Bridgewater Place since 1993, we have worked together on many matters, sometimes for the same clients. That level of familiarity, along with many mutual business opportunities, made this an easy decision.”

In addition, both firms were looking to expand, although from slightly different perspectives.

“It was my focus when I started as president in August to look over our needs and what our capabilities were,” said Roth, whose practice includes serving as a federal mediator and focuses on business, commercial litigation, and trademarks. Roth’s honors include a former designation as a Rising Star, current Super Lawyer status in business and general litigation, and membership in the Litigation Counsel of America, limited to 0.5% percent of attorneys in the U.S.

“Law Weathers really just has a tremendous stable of clients, if you take the number of attorneys we have,” Roth continued. “We’re very very fortunate in the quality of our clients. We determined that in order to continue to effectively grow with our clients and take care of their needs, we needed to expand the depth and breadth of what we offer.

“So the intent of joining with Varnum is to service our clients as well as we can.”

Varnum is in expansion mode, but as Dave Khorey stresses, their goal is to grow not only around the state — as their September opening of an office in Detroit would indicate — but also in Grand Rapids.
Says Khorey, a labor and employment attorney whose numerous recognitions include being listed in The Best Lawyers in America® since 2001, “It’s a very cool thing to be part of that history. We consider Varnum to be pretty old but they’re older than us by any measure. As we expand in the state, it really firms up our presence here.”

Law Weathers has maintained its stability through many name changes since it was founded by John Champlin 160 years ago. Champlin later went on to become the mayor of Grand Rapids and a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, serving as Chief Justice starting in 1883.

At a time when Grand Rapids had a population of 60,000, the firm continued to grow with partners including Robert W. Butterfield, who served as Special Counsel to the state of Michigan; Julius Amberg, later Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s special assistant; R. Dale Law in 1940; Niel Weathers in 1946; Robert Richardson in 1947; and, in 1950, the first female attorney at a Grand Rapids law firm, Margaret Cook.

The best-known partner in the firm that was called Law Weathers and Richardson from 1980-2009 and Law Weathers since was no doubt President Gerald R. Ford, who joined in 1946. While in office, President Ford appointed his long-time partner Phillip W. Buchen (who was named on the “Law Weathers” letterhead off and on from 1950 to the late 1960s) as White House Counsel.

Said Varnum Executive Partner Thomas Kyros, “ We look forward to hanging a portrait of Law Weathers' most prominent alumnus, President Gerald Ford, in our client reception area, alongside those of Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt, Howlett and the other greats from our firm's past.”

Indeed, one of the original founders of the firm that became Varnum was McGeorge Bundy, whose son also worked for Secretary of War Henry Stimson and whose namesake grandson was a well-known military advisor during the Vietnam War era (who aided Stimson in writing his memoirs).

Laurent Varnum joined in 1927, later joining others as lead partners, and the firm’s prestige was cemented in 1983 when it joined with the partnership started by Robert Howlett and Walter K. Schmidt.
Most of the attorneys currently with Law Weathers — at press time, 16 — will join Varnum.

“This is one of the most exciting things that’s happened in Varnum’s recent history,” says Khorey.

Roth agrees. “From an expansion of talent point of view, this is for us and our clients a home run – we’re incredibly excited,” he says.