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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 8, 2019 4 months ago

Focus on steady growth, strong culture spells success for area law firm

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Blalock Walters, with offices in Sarasota and Bradenton, has 26 attorneys.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Matthew Plummer, recently named managing partner at Blalock Walters, one of the most established and largest law firms in the Sarasota-Bradenton region, prefers face-to-face communication over email. 

Despite the 26 attorneys and other staffers, Plummer maintains an open-door policy and is known office-wide for employees regularly coming to talk with him — so much so a colleague bought him a deli take-a-number ticket dispenser as a joke that now sits in his office.

The "next" nature of the dispenser, while funny, also belies one of Plummer's primary focuses in his new role, which he took on in November: to keep up the firm’s sense of culture and camaraderie, one employee/attorney at a time. (Plummer replaced longtime firm executive Jonathan Fleece, now president and CEO of Sarasota-based Tidewell Hospice, in the managing partner role.)

To maintain the firm’s culture, the focus is on helping employees meet their professional development goals along with emphasizing the firm’s multifaceted corporate wellbeing program. Plummer also seeks to simultaneously maintain Blalock Walters’ steady growth in clients and new business, what he calls "smart growth" at the firm, which dates back 90 years. The firm posted $11.3 million in revenue in 2017, up 9.7% over $10.3 million in 2016.  

“I want us all to work as a team because we’re stronger as a group.” — Matthew Plummer, managing partner, Blalock Walters

He says the firm has been adding a least one attorney a year, and practice areas where he sees growth potential include health care, employment and local government. Geographically, the firm has grown by opening an office in Sarasota. The firm has five attorneys in Sarasota now, and doubled its office space there in 2018 to about 3,000 square feet. “Sarasota has been a great initiative,” Plummer says

There’s a possibility of additional physical offices ahead, Plummer says, but the firm will also look to expand its presence without adding brick-and-mortar offices.

Blalock Walters has some size advantages in its growth strategy, such as having more manpower than smaller firms, Plummer says. On the flip side, it has more overhead and operational challenges than a small firm. “A lot comes down to communication,” he says, emphasizing the importance of hearing the needs of the firm’s employees and reacting to them.

Competition for business the firm faces varies by practice group. The firm’s corporate health care group competes with firms on a more regional level, for example. “I feel like we’re in a nice area,” Plummer says. “We have a very high skill set, but we’re able to compete with smaller firms, too.”

Along with growth, meanwhile, Plummer says it’s important to keep the culture of the firm strong. Some firms, he says, have siloed mentalities, and that’s not what he wants at Blalock Walters. “I want us all to work as a team because we’re stronger as a group,” Plummer says.  

Blalock Walters has a mentor-mentee system that matches employees with a mentor who has a similar personality and interests. Plummer himself says he has two great sounding boards in firm principals Cliff Walters and Robert Blalock. 

The firm’s corporate wellbeing program, dubbed Blalock Walters BeWell, isn’t just about exercise — although the firm does have a staircase in its Bradenton office with a plaque next to it that reads “Blalock Walters Fitness Room.” BeWell also includes community, career, financial and social wellbeing.

Through BeWell Blalock Walters, has brought in a financial advisor and a nutritionist to talk with employees; held group yoga classes; hosted a charity toy drive; and paid for 5Ks for employees who wanted to participate.

Employees have also gotten together to go to a Pirates spring training baseball game together, and one attorney, Plummer says, is working on setting up a laser tag outing for the firm’s departments. Employees get together regularly outside the office, too, and the firm holds monthly luncheons for staff and principal dinners and associate dinners two to three times a year.

Another key aspect of the firm’s culture is its professional development plans, PDPs. Each year, attorneys submit PDPs to their practice group leader and mentor. Plans include professional development opportunities such as continuing education classes, marketing plans and other goals. “Now we’re internally focusing on the growth of our attorneys,” Plummer says.

One of his own goals? Look at everyone’s professional development plan and have everyone meet his or her goals for the year. Plummer says, “If those people hit their goals, that means the firm was extremely successful.”

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