VLS Alumnus Opens Firm for Labor Clients, at a Smaller Price
After graduation from Villanova Law School in 1983, labor and employment lawyer, Michael Curley '83, moved to Los Angeles to join the firm of O'Melveny & Myers L.L.P., and several years later moved to the firm's New York office. In 2002, he moved to the New York office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P, which among big law firms has one of the more robust employment practices. A native Philadelphian, Curley soon found himself back in Center City traveling up and down to New York on the train.
Several years ago, Curley noticed that the focus of Big Law was more on scale and profits and less on client relationships. His first thought was that this wasn't the reason he had gone to law school. It was clear, that he and Big Law would soon go their separate ways. Although loyal to his clients, the underlying cost structure of big firms was causing upward pressure on rates. Curley's solution, keep his clients and lower costs by starting his own firm!
In 2009, Curley, one of the nation's most prominent employment lawyers, left a thriving practice at Morgan Lewis and struck out on his own. Curley wanted to create a smaller firm, where clients would get more attention.
"I have a clear idea of what I want in my firm. When we have a slow time, no one is going to have to wonder whether they will be laid off. When someone gets sick or goes through a personal crisis, no one is going to have to wonder if this will be a problem."
"I just wanted to get all of the baggage out of the way. I don't want to play games. I want to keep things real simple."
Curley is the co-founder of Curley, Hessinger & Johnsrud L.L.P. The firm's goal: provide high-end labor and employment representation to major employers, at a lower price than the big-firm rate structure.
The firm was founded at a favorable time. Despite the difficulties in the legal marketplace, labor and employment law has shown great vitality. In times of economic turmoil and hardship, conflicts between employers and employees actually grow and intensify. Employees sue more often, and as a result, employers seek lawyers to defend them against these suits.
Curley, 54, and his colleagues brought big-name clients with them; the roster includes Goldman Sachs, Disney Worldwide, and NBCUniversal. Last year, Curley was the lead labor lawyer for the Philadelphia Orchestra in its hard-nosed negotiations with musicians over pay, work rules, and pensions. In the end, Curley negotiated steep compensation cuts and work-rule changes that leaders of the orchestra say have put it on a sounder footing.
Curley, Hessinger & Johnsrud L.L.P. has 12 lawyers, with offices in Philadelphia, Palo Alto, Calif., and New York. To keep costs down, decor and compensation are relatively modest, and one of the firm's attorney's, David Silverman, Curley's brother-in-law, does nothing but handle the business end.
The firm's rates are 35% to 40% below those of large firms, relationships with clients are long term, and often personal, some of which are even friends with whom Curley now vacations.