John E. Flanagan, Jordan J. Hemaidan, Ann Ustad Smith, and Thomas W. Scrivner
As one of the oldest and most deeply rooted firms in Wisconsin, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP is a stalwart in all of the expected practice areas: real estate, employment law, litigation, M&A, construction, and banking to name a few. But with groups such as intellectual property, energy and agribusiness, Michael Best is emerging as a go-to firm—both regionally and nationally—in cutting edge areas of the law. “We’ve been able to establish ourselves in a manner that distinguishes the firm in our markets and broadens our reach well beyond the borders of Wisconsin,” says managing partner David Krutz, who joined the firm full time in 1991 after a year-and-a-half-long clerkship. “In some ways we are very much what a traditional corporate firm would look like, but we are also building new practices that are really taking off.”
You can’t talk about the firm’s cutting edge practice groups without looking at the firm’s Venture Capital Practice, known as Venture Best, which was founded more than 10 years ago and shepherds startup businesses through the oft-treacherous world of investment capital, financing rounds, and getting operations off the ground on all sides of the table. Michael Best is effective in this area, says Krutz, because it takes a hands-on approach and understands every step of the process. That is one of the firm’s key discriminators. “We basically look at it as a start-to-finish proposition and can cover the client’s needs throughout the growth of the company,” says Krutz.
Venture Best works in tandem with another one of its cutting edge practices, the University Patent Practice. The firm represents over fifteen national universities by helping to manage their patent portfolios and to monetize their technology. Krutz says, “Our goal is to help our clients get through the road blocks that often stand in their way, manage their risks and find success in their particular market.”
The University Patent Practice is an off-shoot of the firm’s national intellectual property practice, says Krutz. At the most basic level, the over 100 professionals on the IP team help businesses grow and protect their assets. “Our IP attorneys try to gain a thorough understanding of our clients’ overall strategic plans,” he notes. “It’s not just about getting a patent or trademark filed. It’s answering larger questions: Can they sell the product? How aggressive do they want to be, both locally and overseas? Our approach is about identifying their needs to help them maximize their opportunities as well as being their watchdog.” Krutz also says the firm is flexible with fee arrangements, such as flat-fee structures or working on a retainer, yet another way Michael Best adds value.
Regardless of what any particular client’s needs are, the common theme at Michael Best is the overarching notion of partnership with the client. It’s not surprising that many of the firm’s clients have been with Michael Best for decades, says Krutz. “Our attorneys develop a deep understanding of their clients’ individual histories, how they operate and their industries,” he notes. “That way, we do not only advise them on what the law is, but we can assess the business risks and provide a legal strategy which aligns with their business strategy.” For the firm, it boils down to client service, which is paramount. “It’s A-1,” Krutz says. “Providing high value to the client is the mantra that guides everything we do.”
Michael Best was founded in Milwaukee 165 years ago by two visionary attorneys—one who ended up serving as Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court—and today has four offices throughout the state. “We have been in the market since Wisconsin has been a state,” Krutz says. “We’ve changed and matured as a firm as the state’s economy has changed. For example, from the 1950s through the 1990s, we had an exceptionally strong labor practice,” he says. “But since many union-dominated manufacturing jobs have moved out of state, our employment law attorneys now focus on general employment law matters, benefits, and trade secrets in addition to labor issues. Likewise, M&A for large public companies was also a predominant area for us, but in recent years we’ve been assisting more privately-held firms with their business, M&A, and tax needs.”
Michael Best is taking its Midwest roots national as the firm has grown in markets outside of the state, with offices in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C., where the firm opened in 2013. Krutz notes, “Our IP practice and our growing energy practice meant that it made sense for us to be geographically close to agencies such as the United States Patent & Trademark Office and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”
At the end of the day, Michael Best attorneys remain dedicated to giving time to the communities they serve. Krutz says the firm’s pro bono work and its sense of volunteerism runs deep. “The emphasis on community involvement is something that will never change,” he says.