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Gross McGinley’s sweet spot: building relationships

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From its humble beginnings in an Allentown rowhouse in 1976, Gross McGinley LLP has grown into one of the top 100 law firms in Pennsylvania. It has settled into a professional sweet spot – small enough to develop and maintain personal relationships with clients but large enough to offer them a wide array of services on par with national firms.

And as long as founder and managing partner Paul McGinley has any say, the firm will maintain that balance as part of its identity.

“We’ve been approached any number of times by megafirms to become their Allentown branch, to merge with them,” McGinley said. “But we’ve turned them down every time because I think it changes the nature of the relationship with the client. It just doesn’t seem quite the way we want to do business.”

Added senior partner Tom Reilly, who joined the firm in 2006 and is the chair of the firm’s business services group: “One thing that is never going to change and will always determine the difference between success and failure, regardless of all the information and all the jurisdictions, and all the pieces we bring to the table, is the personal relationship between the attorney and the client.”

The key, Reilly said, is for clients to feel comfortable enough to follow council’s advice, even if it might not be what they want to do.

“I have a client who says to me on a regular basis ‘Aren’t you so proud of me? Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have listened to you,’ ” Reilly said.

McGinley would like to say that was the vision when he joined with his wife Carol (now President Judge of Lehigh Valley County of Common Pleas) and Malcolm Gross in launching the firm 37 years ago. But the fact is they didn’t know what the firm could become.

“We were just happy to be there,” McGinley recalled with a laugh.

Over the years, however, Gross McGinley grew slowly but strategically, adding services – litigation, estate planning, municipal law – as demand became apparent. The firm moved into its current headquarters on Seventh Street in Allentown in 1986 and added satellite offices in Easton (2006) and Emmaus (2011).

A team of 30 lawyers provides services to local, regional and national clients in a wide variety of industries, including banking, media and publishing, and medical malpractice defense.

In recent years, legal issues surrounding the Internet have become one of the fastest growing segments of the practice’s Business Law Group, according to McGinley. From social media to privacy polices to intellectual property, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way businesses interact with the public – and the government is always watching, he said.

“I spend a fair amount of time on regulatory compliance,” McGinley said. “If you are going to market your business online, you have to understand Federal Trade Commission rules regarding what you can and cannot say. There are also different rules in 50 states. Some businesses, innocently, don’t think they need a lawyer for those issues.”

Getting those clients to pick up the phone and ask questions when they are confronted with a sticky legal issue is always a challenge, said Reilly. By developing long-term relationships with clients, the firm is in a better position to deal with legal issues proactively, rather than letting them develop into a problem.

In recent months, Gross McGinley has been more aggressive in educating clients about upcoming legal issues. One hot topic on the horizon is when businesses realize the full impact of the Affordable Care Act. While the questions have been few so far, Reilly said, he expects the issue to explode during the fall open enrollment period for health insurance coverage.

“The rules seem to be changing weekly or monthly,” he said. “It’s not always the most comfortable thing, but sometimes we have to give our best view at the time and tell clients we’ll advise you if things change.”

For Paul McGinley, it goes back to developing ongoing relationships with clients. Catching issues on the front end is always better than dealing with a crisis, he said.

“We’ve made a conscious decision to do it this way because we think it is best for our clients,” McGinley said.

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