Culture Club

Ice Miller

Photo for 'Culture Club' by Ice Miller
When Ice Miller partner David Mattingly joined the legendary Indianapolis firm in 1971—more than 60 years since it was founded—there were precisely 37 attorneys on staff. In the ensuing 40-something years, Ice Miller would grow to more than 300 lawyers strong, with a presence in six cities throughout four states. But don’t let the size of this firm fool you: Ice Miller might have big-firm resources, but its culture is decidedly small firm—very much by design. “The lawyers here all work together without the rivalries that can be found at some of the bigger firms,” says Mattingly, a litigator who practices primarily in tax and risk management. “We’ve always had a true partnership. We make a real effort at rewarding our clients for their decision to utilize our services by striving for great results at a fair price.”

Indeed, partner and former managing partner Melissa Reese says the client has always come first at Ice Miller, and in many ways that razor-sharp focus has been at the heart of the firm since its founding more than a century ago. It has also been what has allowed the firm—known regionally and nationally for its strengths in practice areas such as corporate law, litigation, municipal finance, venture capital and private equity—to expand into emerging practice areas. “This is a firm that encourages creativity and innovative thought,” says Reese, noting that agribusiness and employee benefits are two areas of growth for the firm. “So being able to pursue new areas has been really successful.”

But regardless of whether a practice is brand new or a firm stalwart, the approach is the same: to know the client’s business from the top down and understand their tolerance for risk—as well as being aware no client’s issue is marked either black or white. “The challenge is in trying to communicate how dark or light the gray area might be,” says partner Tom Schnellenberger, a tax lawyer who joined the firm in 2000. “But the big thing for me is that we always take a team approach to the practice. We don’t silo work, we get it out to the people best equipped to handle it, which allows me to focus on what I’m good at. That’s a huge client benefit.”

This idea of specialization—and not viewing attorneys as generalists—runs deep at the firm and was the vision of founder Harry Ice from the very beginning. “What separates us is that we’re methodical about areas in which we want to be very good, and we build enough breadth and depth so that we can distinguish ourselves,” says partner John Thornburgh, a venture capital/private equity attorney who chairs the firm’s business and sports and entertainment practices. “Our venture capital/private equity practice is a great example. We entered the practice in the 1980s during a time when most of the other firms of our size in the Midwest didn’t have much involvement. It’s been beneficial to have been one of the early movers into the market.”

Partner Michael Boldt’s practice—labor law—has actually become more specialized in the nearly four decades he’s been helping management navigate union contracts and collective bargaining issues. “When I started, unions represented 35 percent of the employers in the private sector, and it has shrunk to about 6 percent,” he says. “But the need for labor attorneys is as acute as it ever was.” The firm—as it does in virtually every area in which it operates—has nurtured Boldt’s practice as well. It’s that culture thing again, he says. “This firm values diverse thinking,” he says. “That idea runs forward even today, that we don’t have to conform to one particular ideology.”

Not only does it value diverse thinking, but Ice Miller’s commitment to diversity among its attorneys is legendary. But you won’t find a dedicated program, or targeted numbers, says Reese, who was the firm’s first woman managing partner. “Harry Ice did not see gender,” she says. “It has run deep at the firm; we’ve inherited it and nurtured it.” There’s also an innate sense of flexibility that allows the firm’s attorneys to strike a sense of balance between work and life—something that can be elusive at other firms. “I work a reduced-hours schedule because of the way technology has evolved, which wasn’t possible when I started practicing 18 years ago,” says partner Amy Corsaro, whose practice is concentrated in municipal finance, where she represents issuers and borrowers of municipal bonds. Says Reese: “The way the firm is set up helps each attorney work to their strengths. We appreciate uniqueness and work hard to maintain it.”

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