Varnum Law Opens Birmingham Office as Part of Metro Detroit Expansion - Sachse Construction
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Varnum Law Opens Birmingham Office as Part of Metro Detroit Expansion

Varnum LLP has opened a new office in Birmingham as part of a plan to expand its Southeast Michigan presence as large as its base in West Michigan.

The firm, headquartered in Grand Rapids, last week opened an 8,000-square-foot office off Brown Street in the city’s central business district, said Ron DeWaard, chair of the law firm. Eight attorneys moved there from its Detroit and Novi locations, and DeWaard plans to fill it out with seven more new attorneys in the next year.

The firm is tapping into the region’s large automotive supplier base for growth and sees potential new business in autonomous vehicles.

“There’s so many regulatory issues and emerging legal issues in terms of technology, data and privacy issues,” DeWaard said of the industry. “That kind of specialty area gives us capabilities that I don’t know any other firms can claim to have.”

In a generally stagnant legal industry, local law firms are facing stiff competition, with many diversifying their areas of practice to generate more revenue. Honigman LLP formed in 2017 a team of attorneys to focus on the autonomous vehicle industry. Other firms such as Dickinson Wright and Dykema have similar units.

Varnum entered the metro Detroit market in 2005 with an office in Novi and opened one in Detroit about 10 years later. Most of the firm’s 50 lawyers in Southeast Michigan, which also includes an office in Ann Arbor, were hired in the past five years — 15 in the past two years, DeWaard said.

In total, Varnum has 189 lawyers across eight offices in the state. In the next couple of months, it will move its Ann Arbor location to a Main Street office downtown that is twice the size. DeWaard said he plans to expand that office from six to 12 attorneys in the next year.

“What’s driving it is we’re able to take market share from other firms by developing a client-centric culture,” DeWaard said.

By number of attorneys, Varnum ranked 21st on Crain’s 2019 list of largest law firms in Southeast Michigan. It ranked as the second-largest law firm for number of attorneys in Greater Michigan, behind just Warner Norcross + Judd LLP.

Most of Varnum’s business comes from auto suppliers, including 22 tier-one suppliers, nine of which are among the 100 largest globally, DeWaard said. He declined to offer names, citing confidentiality agreements. Another large area of focus is estate planning.

The Birmingham office, led by senior attorney Mike Romaya, will build off a “significant client base” there and focus on estate planning, finance, litigation, labor and employment, trusts and corporate services. Detroit-based Sachse Construction served as construction manager for build-out.

DeWaard said there’s been talk of expanding the firm outside the state — to the greater Midwest and Florida — but the immediate goal is to build up its Southeast Michigan presence.

“We are ready, willing and able to expand the offices we have to accommodate growth, and we think right now, we are in the right locations.”

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