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Rochester Top 100: Law firm adjusts path amid market changes

Rochester Business Journal
April 22, 2016

Two and a half years ago, Davidson Fink LLP decided to take a long look at its situation.

It was not that the law firm was doing badly, said managing partner Robert Galbraith Jr. The firm was still growing. It has made the Rochester Top 100 list of fastest growing private companies in four of the past six years.

But much had changed in the world and the legal profession in the nearly half century since Davidson Fink’s founding in 1968. And in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn and the recession that followed, the pace of change, if anything, had accelerated.

Corporate clients have become increasingly cost-conscious, while online ventures such as LegalZoom.com Inc. and Sequitor Inc.’s LawDepot have cut increasingly into the retail and small-business markets.

Not as a rule adventurous, lawyers tend to be staid, but in the legal marketplace “it’s not business as usual,” Galbraith said. He and other partners thought it was time for Davidson Fink to take stock.

“We looked at who our clients are; we looked at where the legal marketplace was at and where it was going; we hired an outside consultant,” he said. “We determined that the marketplace called for more focus and we needed to hone our practice.”

With 21 attorneys and a total staff of 105, Davidson Fink is a midsize firm that mostly handles commercial work for small and midsize business clients regionally and across the state.

The banking and credit union sector is one of the firm’s largest areas of concentration. It handles New York State work for several large, national banks, Galbraith said.

Commercial work had been the heart of the firm’s business, and partners felt it should remain at its core, Galbraith said. But the firm decided to shed medical malpractice, a move made partly to avoid possible conflicts if it wanted to keep its options as open as possible in the commercial arena.

“You can’t sue your own clients,” Galbraith said. “The region’s biggest employers are now health systems.”

Three partners who had made up Davidson Fink’s personal injury and medical malpractice group left to form their own firm, Kelly White Donofrio LLP.

“I believe they’re doing well,” Galbraith said.

Davidson Fink has not entirely abandoned noncommercial practice areas. It still has partners focused on trust and estate work, for example.

The decision to keep offering such services fits in with the firm’s resolve to hone in on commercial work, Galbraith said. In those areas, the firm’s work is done for its own clients. Trust and estate expertise can be invaluable to closely held firms in need of succession planning.

Partner David Rasmussen joined Davidson Fink in 2008. A litigator who has practiced extensively in commercial lending and creditors’ rights, he began his career with Harris Beach PLLC.

After leaving Harris Beach to start his own firm with partner Glenn Fjermedal, Rasmussen and Fjermedal joined Lacy Katzen LLP for three years before both landed at Davidson Fink.

For them, Rasmussen said, the firm is sized just right—big enough to have a range of talented partners but small enough to be entrepreneurial.

At Davidson Fink, Rasmussen has started one of the area’s few agricultural law practices.

“It’s an area I’ve always been interested in,” Rasmussen said. “You know it’s the state’s largest industry.”

Galbraith sees the agricultural practice as one of the firm’s prime growth areas.

The firm is otherwise looking to expand its footprint across the state, Galbraith said.

Whether future growth will come through mergers with other firms in the Rochester area or elsewhere, by expanding its existing practice groups with new hires, or whether Davidson Fink might look to open offices in other cities are all open questions that will be answered according to conditions as they arise, he said.

“We have more work to do,” Galbraith said. “It’s a process.”

The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. The 2016 Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 2. For more information, go to greaterrochesterchamber.com.

Davidson Fink LLP Law firm
Year founded: 1968
Top executive: Robert Galbraith Jr., managing partner
2015 ranking: 94
Current employment: 105
Headquarters: Rochester
Website: davidsonfink.com

4/22/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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