A Firm Philosophy

Ted Howell formed Howell Legal Inc. because he feels that the traditional law firm model is losing touch with:
  1. the client’s needs
  2. the needs of its employees.
In short, he feels that the traditional model of partners who sell business and associates who complete the work is unacceptable to the modern client who, by virtue of technology and innovation, is afforded more choices than the client of even 10 years ago.
One of Ted’s passions is his work with early stage start-up companies. Through that work, Ted felt that he began to see a trend, which he felt would only gain strength with time. The traditional law firm’s focus on minimum billable hours and leveraging associate and paralegal hours, he feels, is misaligned with the needs and desires of his clients. This, combined with a downturn in the economy (and, for some, less business), resulted in an internal pressure to increase time billed, billing rates and collections, at just the time when the clients needed flexibility to survive.
Ted asked his clients what they liked and disliked with respect to the provision of legal services and found some interesting results. Besides the obvious – quality legal services, clients were most interested in:

  • Low overhead
  • Alternative Fee arrangements and the ability to provide set fees for various transactions – i.e. predictability in legal costs
  • Client ownership
  • Quality Attorneys
  • Ability to adjust to the clients’ changing needs
Ted felt that the traditional model did not offer him the platform that he needed to address those concerns, so he started Howell Legal, and is committed to address those concerns as follows:

A) Low Overhead

Space – The firm currently operates out of the Founder’s League in Providence – a collaborative space which reflects a culture of working together rather than in isolation, with private space allowing the firm to preserve its clients’ confidences and its staff’s ability to focus . Wherever possible, the firm’s staff visit its clients, and the staff works under similar conditions as the firm’s clients. The firm’s culture also recognizes that high quality work can be produced outside the workplace and in non-traditional places, including the home. The firm feels that this will help it attract high quality lawyers who have responsibilities outside the workplace and need flexibility in order to flourish.

Staff – The technology available today has significantly reduced the need for receptionists and secretaries. The firm plans to grow organically and on an as-needed basis. The firm is committed to client service and will only hire attorneys and staff-persons who share our passion and vision as to how legal services should be provided.

Technology – The firm is small and nimble. It embraces technology. Rather than crowding more space with paper files, it goes paperless where it can. The firm has also adopted the use of billing and accounting software which has allowed it to operate without an expensive accounting or IS department.

B) Alternative Fee Arrangements.

During Ted’s practice in the traditional law firms, he found that alternative fee arrangements rarely worked. He felt that this was because each attorney was still measured by the old standards and alternative fee structures had to approximate the revenues of traditional billing models in order to be deemed successful. If an attorney wanted to measure up at the end of the year, he or she needed to make his or her hours, realization rate and, for senior attorneys, collections. This was true irrespective of the billing arrangement. Furthermore, the overhead of the firm did not change, so unless the firm or attorney found a way to allocate less overhead to alternative fee arrangements, the revenues from those arrangements had to approximate the fees generated on hourly billing in order to be deemed successful. So, if the firm quoted $10,000 for a deal, the attorneys and staff still tracked their hours on the deal. If the firm tracked too many hours, it would have to either try to get more money from the client, write the time off, or the attorneys and staff would have to stop writing down all of their time on the deal. Ted came to the conclusion that firms cannot implement real change without changing their infrastructure. So, in forming Howell Legal, Ted reduced overhead and created true alternative fee arrangements. Once the value proposition and price is agreed upon, all that matters is dollars in the door, and that is what compensation is based upon. If the firm does good work, and the client is happy, the staff will be appropriately compensated.

(C) Client ownership

At Howell Legal, we feel that client ownership is one of the biggest problems faced by all firms, even many of the “alternative” firms. What is client ownership? It’s one of those things that you (and your client) knows when you see it, but it is not necessarily easy to define. Usually it happens when the attorney has the ability to listen, have empathy, and treat the clients’ issues and problems as if they are his or her own. In the past, firms that Ted worked for conducted client interviews. Without fail, his clients said that his performance was excellent, but everybody else’s was good or satisfactory. Even more interesting – it wasn’t just Ted. When he worked on other partner’s projects, that other partner was the star in the client’s eyes. So why does this happen? Howell Legal’s theory harks in part upon the competing interests of attorneys as it relates to hours billed, realization rates, and collection rates. The “worker” attorney cares about billing his or her hours and not writing any of the time off. The result: they bill every hour that they work, but don’t have time to get to know the client’s concerns and needs. That time doesn’t count, and if it’s written down, it’s written off. The attorney with the relationship spends extra time with the client to maintain the relationship, but still has the same billing and realization pressures. So he or she, perhaps not even intentionally, focuses those few free hours on those clients with whom he or she has a relationship. Even worse, that relationship manager may actually try to inhibit discussions between the client and other attorneys, because he or she is fearful that the client will get too close to another attorney, and maybe switch allegiances. This is why at Howell Legal, we believe that a change in focus and incentives can also lead to more client ownership and satisfaction.
As we have heard people in various industries say, we like to view ourselves as “semi-embedded resources.” The firm’s staff is active enough with its clients to understand the client’s needs and desires and, hopefully, help guide it in legally efficient manner, playing a “preventative” role rather than a “reactive” role. At the same time, the firm’s staff is actively involved with other clients and the community, allowing it to apply general principles that it observes in the various areas of expertise as a whole, and come up with logical, efficient and targeted solutions to clients’ needs and objectives.

D) You can’t have a good firm without good attorneys.

So how are they attracted? It has always been about:
  1. money,
  2. culture
  3. ability to progress both internally and within the attorney’s field
This is not necessarily in that order. This has been true for years, and Howell Legal is not challenging that proposition. It is merely changing the emphasis and recognizing that the old model of addressing those goals doesn’t always work for the modern attorney or the modern client. Most bonus structures are based on meeting certain goals on an annual basis. But in reality, the modern attorney may have a “bad” month or “quarter”, which may result in failure of meeting those annual goals. What happens then? At a minimum, the incentive fails based on discouragement – the attorney knows the goal will never be met. In the worst-case scenario – if the attorney has the ability to do so, he or she will find a way to try to put work in a new bucket – i.e. the next year – to get a good head start. This is typically at the cost of either the firm or the client, neither of which are a good solution. Howell Legal’s compensation structure is designed to make the attorney’s goals align, as best as possible, with the clients.

About Ted Howell

Ted Howell received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics from the University of Pennsylvania. From there, Ted worked primarily in manufacturing. He spent time with a manufacturer of industrial computer enclosures, and later acted as a consultant in the South Boston facility of Gillette, where he helped document and optimize the injection molding lines for the Sensor ® razor line.

Ted went to law school at Boston University School of Law, where he graduated, cum laude, in 1999. He took a position with Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault LLP, where he focused his practice on dot.com companies, providing them services relating to formation, shareholder issues, equity financing, licensing, mergers and acquisitions, and IPOs. After TH&T, Ted took a position with a small, Providence, RI – based firm, where he focused his practice on shareholder agreements, contract negotiation, debt financing, asset protection, business succession planning and mergers and acquisitions.

In 2005, Ted commenced practice at Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP, where he practiced until May 2014. At PSH, Ted became partner and chair of the corporate group. He continued the practice that he had engaged in prior to PSH, but was involved in more complicated merger and acquisition, as well as debt finance, transactions. During his tenure at PSH, Ted also got more involved in the start-up community, which eventually led to the formation of Howell Legal. He was integral to the adoption of the RI-CIE office hour program, which resulted in acting as counsel to a large percentage of the companies participating in the Betaspring accelerator program. Today, his clients run the gamut from large companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues to the earliest stage, pre-revenue start-up. His passion is getting to know the client and the client’s business, and integrating himself in a team approach to the provision of legal services.

About Ryan Juliano

Ryan Juliano has a diverse background in corporate transactions and advising. He began his career in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where he focused on securities work, including IPOs, public company reporting, and high-yield debt offerings. When his wife landed a job at Stanford University, Ryan transferred to K&E’s Palo Alto office, which primarily advised private equity sponsors and their portfolio companies. There, he worked on a range of M&A transactions and growth capital investments and provided clients with outside general counsel services.

In 2014, Ryan re-located to Rhode Island to plant roots with his family on the East Coast. Most recently, he was a corporate associate in the Providence office of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP. Being new to the Ocean State, Ryan found himself drawn to Providence’s nascent, but vibrant tech/start-up community, which reminded him so much of the energy he loved in the Bay Area. Sharing Ted’s belief that the traditional law firm model was a poor fit for many of today’s client, Ryan joined Howell Legal in 2015, excited to work on a lean, agile platform that mirrors so many tech and emerging growth companies.

Ryan earned both his B.S. and J.D. from Cornell University. During his ¾ of a decade in Ithaca, he played for the varsity sprint football team and club rugby team (which he eventually coached). He’s happy when playing pick-up sports, listening to (and probably singing along with) Americana music, watching college football, reading Chuck Palahniuk or Kurt Vonnegut, and drinking great American IPAs. But his greatest joy is long walks with his wife, Dev, his daughter, Scout, and his wire fox terrier, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake.