International Firm Profile: Luce Forward

After two and a half years as Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps’ managing partner, Bob Bell is at a crossroads. His firm has reached a respectable size, is operating profitably and is well respected in its core practice areas of litigation, construction and insurance.

Firm:

Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps
Managing partner: Bob Bell
Turnover: $100m (£57.14m)
Profit per equity partner: $540,000 (£308,570)
Total number of partners: 89
Total number of lawyers: 200
Main practice areas: Real estate, litigation, employment, insurance
Key clients: All State Insurance, Horton Lemar, Opus
Number of offices: Five
Locations: Carmel Valley, Los Angeles, Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco

After two and a half years as Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps’ managing partner, Bob Bell is at a crossroads. His firm has reached a respectable size, is operating profitably and is well respected in its core practice areas of litigation, construction and insurance.

But his challenge – to provide his clients with a full-service firm that covers all of California – is not going to be easy to achieve.

He has options, though. Bell could expand the firm with large numbers of lateral hires in the cities and practice areas that his firm has not yet developed fully. Growth could also come through a merger with a large national firm, or a union with a small Californian outfit to increase numbers.

So far he has followed the first path and brought in almost 20 fresh lawyers through lateral hires in the past few months. A team of 10 trust and estate specialists joined from Holland & Knight in Los Angeles (LA) and five more left to set up Luce Forward’s Rancho Santa Fe office.

“We’ve always got our eyes open and we think it’s important to grow in a smart way,” says Bell. “We’re always looking for good attorneys.”

Bell has set his sights on bulking up Luce Forward’s presence in the key Californian cities. He says: “We want to be a premier Californian regional firm and to grow much more in LA and San Francisco.”

Luce Forward has around 50 lawyers in those offices combined, but Bell wants to see a figure closer to 100 in California’s main locations.

Bell has not ruled out a merger to get those lawyers and he would like offices in Orange County and Sacramento, where he sees “possibilities for the firm”.

“Ideally for us, we’d find a smaller firm with offices there and bring them in a merger,” says Bell.

He said a firm with just under 40 lawyers in each would fit the bill, but did not reveal any firm names.

Beyond California, Bell is wary of an accelerated national expansion. Another office on Bell’s hitlist is western Arizona, but he admits he has to strengthen his California base before heading out of his home state. A merger with a national champion cannot be ruled out, but so far Bell has had to turn down his suitors .

“We get invitations from other firms all the time,” says Bell. “If the right firm came along, one that made sense and that we were comfortable with, then we would consider it. We just haven’t seen the right fit yet.”