Rose Not in Hurry to Grow, New CEO Says

by John Henry  on Monday, Jun. 5, 2006 12:00 am  

Steve Joiner, 48, who joined the Rose Law Firm fresh out of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School in 1987, now presides over a firm of 33 lawyers with four new associates set to start during the summer.

The firm, which once boasted more than 60 lawyers, has never recovered size-wise from Bill Clinton's presidency, which deprived it of several key producers, and the 1998 departure of nine lawyers to the national Kutak Rock firm.

Joiner was named CEO last month after the firm's longtime chief executive, Ron Clark, announced he would become in-house counsel to the reorganized Stephens Group owned by Witt Stephens Jr. and his sister, Elizabeth Stephens Campbell.

Long among the three largest law firms in the state, the Kutak Rock defections dropped Rose to No. 4. And last year it landed at No. 5, where it remains even with the addition of the newly minted law school graduates.

"We frankly don't have a sophisticated plan" for getting bigger, Joiner said in an interview. "It's 'Do we have enough people to get the clients' work done?'"

All four of the new associates are products of in-state law schools — one from the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and three from the University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville. Joiner said Rose does not actively recruit from out-of-state law schools but will always consider any promising lawyer who wants to live in Little Rock.

"People who decide to stay and practice law in Arkansas have the opportunity, if they want to, to go to the bigger markets and make the bigger bucks ... but it's a lifestyle choice," he said. Associate lawyers in Arkansas are generally under less pressure to bill as many hours as their big-city, big-firm counterparts, he said.

Staying in Arkansas to practice was a lifestyle choice for Joiner, who grew up in Lepanto. He spends most weekends on Greers Ferry Lake with his wife, Kathleen, and their children, Meghan, 18, and Robert, 14. His office is decorated, he says, in "Ducks Unlimited."

Becoming CEO — a term that has superseded "managing partner" since the Rose firm is a professional association rather than a partnership — will reduce the number of hours Joiner spends on his usual specialty area of the law, which is regulated utility work.

"It's new and so it's exciting in that regard. I can't tell you which I prefer because I haven't done (the managing part) for very long, but it's always exciting to do something different," he said.

While Joiner primarily represents industrial utility customers and sometimes utilities wanting to build plants or pipelines in Arkansas, Rose's broader business practice is still very busy with issues related to the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act and the Internet, including online transactions and storage of e-mails.

And to add to the volume of e-mails to be stored: "We just gave everyone BlackBerrys," he said.



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