Schwabe shakes up the legal landscape

Regional law firm believes new arrangement will translate into a recruiting advantage with clients

Schwabe posterboard

Don’t go to the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt law firm’s new website expecting to see pictures of briefcase-toting attorneys in business suits striding down an office corridor or seated around a conference table or addressing a judge in court.

The Portland-based firm, which has had an office in Vancouver for more than 20 years, has built a new website that puts more focus on clients than on lawyers. Moreover, “Schwabe,” as it is commonly known, is changing its culture and operating procedures to do the same.

The new website, schwabe.com, captures the new emphasis, which is based on six major client groupings.

For example, a beautiful lake-and-snow-capped-mountain photo launches the “Natural Resources” section of the website, keyed to agriculture and forest-products clients.

Another page features a blue-hulled ocean-going freighter plowing through the water. That’s the “Transportation, Ports and Maritime” page, focused on public ports, seafood companies, fishing vessel operators, railroads, etc.

The other four groupings or teams under the new Schwabe alignment are: Real Estate and Construction; Technology; Healthcare; and Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail.

The firm has approximately 165 attorneys and 350 total employees in seven offices:
Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Bend, Salem, Eugene and Mountain View, Calif. Under the new alignment, which was unveiled in early June, each attorney has one “major” and one “minor” affiliation from among the six groups. Lawyers from multiple offices are on each group or team.

Lisa Lowe is the managing shareholder of the Vancouver office, which has six and a half attorneys and four paralegals. She also is the Port of Vancouver’s lead attorney.

“I know what I know, but I also know there are issues that will come up where I’m going to have another attorney help me provide service to the client,” said Lowe. For example, she’s not a specialist in maritime law, but there are three attorneys in the Portland office and one in Seattle who are on the Transportation, Ports and Maritime team.

“We want to always get the best person for the job,” regardless of where they go to work every day, Lowe said. “This is much more collaborative” than before the realignment by industry group.

Education, too

In June when announcing the changes, Mark Long, Schwabe’s managing partner in Portland, said “Clients are telling us they want more than high-quality legal support; they want partners with deep experience in their industry. . . . We are changing the culture of our firm to support this focus. . . . We get out of the office to meet clients where they are, in their industries.”

For example:

  • An official of the Washington Public Ports Association is planning a trip to Vancouver to speak to members of the Transportation, Ports and Maritime team.
  • Thirteen lawyers on that same team learned about tugboats and issues facing boat operators during a Shaver Transportation tugboat ride in Portland Harbor.
  • Members of the Manufacturing and Distribution team have toured different Clark County companies, including a Columbia Vista wood-products mill in Vancouver’s Fruit Valley.

Two advantages

Lowe said the firm’s new arrangement is an advantage in two ways:

First, she said it is better for clients because learning about a given industry “makes us better lawyers for those clients. We can distinguish ourselves by taking efforts to better understand their issues … Clients can find a good lawyer in a lot of places, but we can distinguish ourselves by taking efforts to better understand the context of their issues.”

Second, she said it helps Schwabe recruit lawyers, be they veterans or recent law-school graduates, because it allows the recruits to specialize in an industry in which they are already interested.

Lowe said the new system is already largely responsible for Schwabe landing a new client in the healthcare industry and for increased inquiries from existing clients.

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
Vancouver office: 700 Washington St., Suite 701 Founded 1909
350 employees (firm-wide)

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