Rodenhouse Kuipers broad-based law firm started small, continues to grow

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

When Andrew Rodenhouse and Jessica Kuipers teamed up to start their own firm, they capitalized on a good working relationship and a shared desire to excel on behalf of their clients.

Over the next few years, the firm grew so much that they had to “poke a hole in the wall” at the building on Front Street to get enough space to accommodate more attorneys.

The founders of Rodenhouse Kuipers PC practiced mainly in the area of criminal law originally (and Kuipers still does), but as they expanded in areas such as family law and civil litigation they added attorneys to handle the client overload.

Audra McClure was the first, in 2015, and she has excelled in her family law practice at the firm.

It was at that point that the two, plus office manager Sudney Rodenhouse,  Andrew’s wife, made the commitment to expanding their physical office space.

“That was a really scary time,” says Rodenhouse with a smile, “because our rent went up significantly and our revenues did not.”

The calculated risk was successful, however; and soon they added business lawyer Chris Newberg who according to the website “balanc[es] his practice between strategic planning and civil litigation;” James Sterken, whose practice includes both civil and criminal; and, most recently, litigator Jason Baker, who went to WMU-Cooley Law School with Rodenhouse.

For Rodenhouse, Cooley’s opening a Grand Rapids campus facilitated him realizing his dream of becoming an attorney.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Hope College in business and geology, Rodenhouse went on to get a masters in management from Aquinas College. He worked briefly as a stockbroker and then joined the family business, Rodenhouse Body Shop.
Handling a chance dispute over a bill while there brought back Rodenhouse’s earlier thoughts about a career in the law, and made him think he might be successful at it.

But only with a school as flexible as WMU-Cooley could he pull off going to school and continuing to work, in addition to running a towing company he and his wife owned. He was a member of the first class that could attend the Grand Rapids campus for all three years.

Kuipers, on the other hand, had to take some of her WMU-Cooley classes at the Lansing campus. She and Rodenhouse originally met when she was the teaching assistant for his criminal law class.

Later, both did externships with the Kent County Office of the Public Defender, and discovered they could be very productive working together. The two, assisted by Sydney Rodenhouse whose job had been a victim of economic downsizing, hung out their shingle in 2011 and have been together ever since.

Kuipers had received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University. She says that background has contributed to her skills in understanding clients so as to best help them.

“While I was at Grand Valley, I took a Constitutional Law class and I fell in love. I decided I had to go to law school,” Kuipers says.

She focuses her practice on major felony and misdemeanor criminal law as well as the more specialized areas of drivers’ license restoration, attorney grievance and character and fitness.

Rodenhouse and Kuipers often collaborate on cases, as well as covering for each other.

They frequently draw high-profile cases which land them in the media’s eye.

Rodenhouse says that probably the most “famous” case he was involved in was that of Leo Ackley, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter by shaking her.

“I got the case on appeal,” says Rodenhouse. “We ended up going all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court where they granted that it was ineffective assistance of counsel. They retried it and he was convicted again, based solely on expert testimony regarding shaken babies.

“Obviously we were hoping for a not guilty verdict, but at least this time the reviewing courts can look at the medical testimony. We corrected the errors in the original defense.”

Rodenhouse says that the trial, in Battle Creek, was so stressful that both he and the prosecutor had health repercussions. “I did about three months of physical therapy after that,” he says, adding that he still thinks his client is innocent.

Another headline-grabber is the ongoing Janiskee case. In an interchange between an on-the-scene officer and Police Lt. Matthew Janiskee concerning an assistant Kent County prosecutor, Janiskee appeared to give advice that would avoid giving the prosecutor a breathalyzer test. The two were deliberately speaking on a line they thought was not recorded.

Rodenhouse is the attorney in a suit Janiskee brought charging that the recording, which the city claims was an accident, is equivalent to wire-tapping.

Both Rodenhouse and Kuipers filed a grievance with the State Attorney Grievance Commission against then-City-Attorney Catherine Mish over a policy she introduced that required a $5 fee to be paid in person at the Grand Rapids District Court in order to obtain a police report. Not only was it difficult to make the trip to the payment window – especially since it could not be done by a staff person – but there is also a question of the legality of the cash payment, versus receiving an invoice which could be tracked.

The policy changed, and Mish was cleared by the commission.

Kuipers, who was recently named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, said she is currently working on some high-visibility cases on which she cannot comment.

But despite notoriety, the attorneys acknowledge that the real driver of increased business is word-of-mouth by happy clients. Rodenhouse, with a marketing background incurred while getting his Masters of Management degree, has various ways of advertising down to a science, and Kuipers says, “I just do a lot of networking in the community.” Both met with a lot of success in learning their trade through just inviting other attorneys to lunch.

Rodenhouse and Kuipers also say they are devoted to keeping costs low for those that use their services. To that end, they intend to add more support and paralegal support staff, having hired one paralegal earlier this year. “Our next expansion will be incorporate more of what paralegals can do into our firm,” Rodenhouse says. “It helps save the client money. We

have quite a few small businesses as clients, and they say they want to have a  good firm but need reasonable prices.”
 

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