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Birmingham Law Firm Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Oakland County Legal News
Friday, November 6, 1998

The principals of Williams, Williams, Ruby & Plunkett, P.C. have come up with a rather simple method of running things at the Birmingham law firm.

They meet once a week over lunch and talk. It’s simple and has certainly withstood the test of time.

"We started something from day one that has worked real well for us," said James A. Williams. "Every Monday at 12 o’clock noon, we have a luncheon. We include as many lawyers as want to come and sometimes we add as many as eight.

"We simply go over all aspects of the business from billings to collections to clients and, in between, talk about the football scores, children, grandchildren, issues. It’s been very well received."

In addition, members of the group "play a little numbers game as to who buys the lunch," according to Williams. "So you always have the thrill of victory or defeat."

The 17-attorney law firm is marking its 25th anniversary this year with festivities that included a gala celebration during the summertime.

"We’ve been celebrating all year and we’ll continue to celebrate," Williams said.

The firm prides itself on the full service it offers and lists 20 areas in which its lawyers excel. Those areas of expertise range from adoption law to bankruptcy, environmental matters to taxation and negligence to zoning.

"This is a group of people which we consider to be exceptional in the area of small to mid-size law firms," said Williams.

Following his interview with the Legal News, Williams was scheduled to interview an applicant. Although he’s always on the lookout for new attorneys, he insists the firm will stay small."We will never become a big law firm," he said. "We will always be mid to small in size with an emphasis on quality of business, quality of people."

There’s another emphasis, he said. "We also think it’s important to find time to enjoy our lives."

Williams said his law firm "encourages people to have a life outside the practice of law."

"We find in the law business that a great many very talented people are leaving it to go into other areas because they are just plain dissatisfied with doing nothing but work."

Williams is chairman of the Michigan National Corporation Board of Directors. He spends a day and a half a week doing that and thoroughly enjoys it.

"It gets me out of this place," he said with a laugh.

Everyone at the Birmingham law firm also is encouraged to "give time back on a pro bono basis."

"I think it’s part of our obligation," he said.

When Williams graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1967, he spent two years with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office before he and L. Brooks Patterson formed a law firm.

Patterson returned to the prosecutor’s office, eventually becoming prosecutor. Williams then went into business with fellow attorneys R. Jamison Williams Jr., John Schaefer and Edward Ruby.

Schaefer recently opened his own law firm in an adjoining building.

Another member of the firm, Thomas G. Plunkett, served as Oakland County prosecutor from 1968 to 1972.

Williams said he enjoys looking back over the past quarter of a century and relishes the challenges of the future.

"It’s a wonderful feeling to look back," he said. "It’s a wonderful feeling to have had a team of people together for this long in the law business.

"I think we’ve been very blessed with good health, good clients and a wonderful place to practice law."

Williams said his firm has never experienced rocky times "because we are very conservative in our fiscal policies, in the way we manage our business. It’s always been a very gradual uptrend."

He admitted, too, that corporate and business law "is a more predictable area" of the business.

Law is a wonderful profession, Williams says, and the changes over the years have only served to improve it.

A keynote to the whole professions, as Williams sees it, is civility.

"Is it on the wane? I hope not. We can all greet people in a polite, kindly manner even when we disagree," he said.

It’s vital, Williams said, to "speak your mind, do it with integrity and never come off your principles. As long as you’re true to those, you’ll always have a good following in this business.

He searches for these qualities when he considers prospective new employees.

"What we really look for is a person with high morals and ethics, with good intelligence and a demonstrated work ethic," he said. "We also look for a diversified background which means that a person should have more interests than just the law."

As Williams reflected on the history of his law firm, he noted that he didn’t have his eye on a legal profession as a young man.

In fact, he started selling insurance after obtaining his undergraduate degree from Wayne State University.

"I couldn’t figure out what to do," he said.

One day, he showed up at WSU’s Law School, knocked on the dean’s door and declared he wanted to enroll even though classes had already begun.

"I said, ‘I’ve decided I want to go to law school,’" Williams reminisced. "He told me that classes had already started, asked if I had applied and asked what made me feel I could get in.

"He told me to start classes, take the admission test and if I didn’t do well, they‘d contact me. I never heard back and graduated three years later.

"It was a great chance on me."

He’s never regretted his decision.

"I love what I do," Williams said. "We’re really counselors today.

When people are talking to us about business decisions they are going to make, that really makes you feel like you’re an important part of their team. I don’t think many lawyers ever really get to that position. If you took it away from me, I would be very, very sad."