Rhoades McKee hires five new lawyers, plans to continue its expansion


New attorneys at Rhoades McKee: standing, left to right, Alexander F. Denton, Mark R. Smith, and Harold E. Nelson. Seated, Joseph A. Lucas and Christopher M. Wirth.


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The 51-year-old Grand Rapids law firm of Rhoades McKee has not only hired five attorneys this year, but intends to keep hiring — and has already committed to bringing on four additional lawyers when they graduate from law school.

An interesting twist is that, of the four experienced attorneys who have recently become part of the firm, three worked together at a law office which has recently disbanded.

Many have read Grand Rapids Bar Association President Mark Smith’s reflections in The Grand Rapids Lawyer, telling about some of his reactions to finding out that the law firm he helped start was ceasing operations.

Of course, Smith as a partner was part of the decision-making process in disbanding Nantz, Litowich, Smith, Girard and Hamilton. When, for different reasons, the firm lost some of its core members, Smith says that one option those remaining considered was continuing on. “We would have had to grow the firm again, replace those who left, but they were a key part of the synergies that made everything work.” Plus, with the economy just starting its recovery, “It would’ve been a tough couple of years.”

Smith jokes that he went home after the decision was made and said to his wife, “I may be the first unemployed bar president.”

He began spreading the word in the legal community he would like to continue his litigation practice at another firm. “Rhoades McKee was the first call I made,” Smith says.

He is delighted that it has worked out to join a firm he has “admired from afar for a number of years.” He cites “their strong commitments to the community, their social conscience, their diverse practice groups” and adds, “The firm is strongly managed and offers a lot of opportunities, but in an environment that’s locally based.

“I was just very fortunate that through the process they saw a match between what I wanted and what they had to offer,” Smith continues.
Nantz Litowich colleagues Joseph A. Lucas and Harold E. Nelson have also joined the firm. Though Smith notes, “From a personal point of view I couldn’t have been happier,” he says that Rhoades McKee’s hiring the two was a separate process from his own.

However, as both Lucas and Nelson have a very particular area of expertise in creditors’ rights, they work with each other quite closely.
Nelson is Board Certified in Business Bankruptcy and a frequent speaker on bankruptcy and debtor/creditors’ rights. Lucas has extensive experience assisting bankruptcy trustees, including recovering and liquidating estate property, but also represents debtors and financially stressed companies.

Christopher M. Wirth is also an experienced lawyer, joining Rhoades McKee from a different local firm. He focuses on general corporate, commercial, finance, real estate, construction and business law matters. He is a former business owner with legal expertise in corporate formation and governance and mergers and acquisitions, as well as alternative and renewable energy ventures,  and biotechnology/life science ventures.

Wirth also teaches classes at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in, among other areas, sports law and entertainment law. Sports law teaching dovetails with his past experience, including work on the sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

The final member of the most recent group of hires is a 2010 graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School. Alexander F. Denton is another addition to Rhoades McKee’s litigation practice, working in the general civil and appellate areas.

According to Peter Lozicki, who serves on Rhoades McKee’s management team along with Robert Shaver, Mary Jane Rhoades, David Bevins and John Lichtenberg, the addition of these new attorneys is a strategic response to what the team saw the firm needed. “We identified the needs of our growing client base, and decided where attorneys were needed.”

Lozicki adds, “We’ve been growing and doing very well, and these are practices where we needed the help.”

In keeping with that, the firm has also made offers to 2011 summer associates for positions that will start when they graduate from law school. Jacob S. Dunlop, Stephanie D. Myott and Kevan W. Ventura expect to take the bar exam in May, while Zoe S. Martinez will take it in February.
Lozicki says the firm has an ongoing commitment to mentoring new associates in the cultures of both the West Michigan legal profession and Rhoades McKee itself. “We really want to make sure that they’re successful, and we think mentoring is of highest  importance.”

Lozicki says Rhoades McKee “absolutely” intends to continue growing for the foreseeable future.

Comments executive committee member Lichtenberg, who is Vice President of Associate Development and Recruitment, “We are confident in the continued business development opportunities in West Michigan and are pleased with the more favorable economic conditions which have been recently recorded.”


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