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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Nevada At Work: One Address, Many Duties: Lionel, Sawyer & Collins Attorney Blooms as Firm Grows

25 September 2006

Paul Hejmanowski defies today's job-hopping work force.

He moved to Las Vegas in 1972 to become the 13th attorney at the expanding Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm, which was founded by former two-term Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer, litigator Sam Lionel, and former Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Jon Collins.

In a short time, Hejmanowski became the law firm's managing partner, largely because his accounting background helped the business transform its billing and accounting.

"I think I probably became the managing partner even before I was a partner in the firm," Hejmanowski said. "It was a practical solution because I was the one who understood the accounting aspect and the financial side of the firm the best."

Fast-forward 34 years. Hejmanowski still lists just one company on his résumé, although he's worn a number of different hats during his career at Lionel Sawyer & Collins.

He's not only watched the firm expand -- almost 80 lawyers work out of offices in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and Washington, D.C. -- but he has witnessed how the trend of out-of-state law firms setting up shop in Nevada has affected the state's legal profession.

Hejmanowski said the firm's status as one of Nevada largest law houses and its reputation among the legal community for its high-profile partners -- former Sen. Richard Bryan heads the firm's government affairs division -- make it a target for critics and competition.

"We have to maintain not just the high profile, but the ability it represents," Hejmanowski said. "We are dealing with so many important issues that are important to our clients."

Question: What does a law firm's managing partner do?

Answer: As managing partner, I oversee the firm's day-to-day operations.

I went to a seminar of managing partners several years ago and we kind of went around the room with thoughts of what makes a good managing partner. My observation is probably to wear comfortable shoes. You have to spend so much time walking and talking to know what's going on and to provide the support needed.

Question: How much of your time is spent as the managing partner?

Answer: It's probably half and half. Sometimes management takes a little more time. I went to law school to be a lawyer and I never wanted to give that up. It's a balancing act.

Question: What brought you to Las Vegas?

Answer: I used to live in the Southwest and I knew I wanted to come back. I interviewed with Gov. Sawyer and the others and I made up my mind on the spot that if they gave me a job I would come. I had intended to take a job with a Phoenix law firm, but after interviewing, I called my wife and said we're going to Las Vegas instead.

Question: What are some of the challenges Lionel Sawyer & Collins has faced in the last few years?

Answer: The business environment has changed for a lot of our clients. Twenty-five years ago, very few gaming companies had in-house counsel, partly because of their size.

With heavy consolidation in the industry, a lot of companies have very sophisticated in-house staffs. Consequently, a lot of work that used to be sent out to law firms is now being done in-house.

Question: Have you lost attorneys to clients?

Answer: That happens regularly. It's actually a good thing because your client has recognized the kind of talent you have and is available to them. It also means in-house lawyers who have influence over where business will be placed are people you have a relationship with, so it's not a bad thing by any means.

Question: How has the competition from of out-of-state law firms moving to Las Vegas changed the makeup of Southern Nevada's legal profession?

Answer: Those firms coming in have learned they need to have well-known local talent to operate their local operation if they are going to have any effect.

They have to go someplace to get that talent. They go to firms like Lionel Sawyer & Collins where you find the best known, competent lawyers and you try to lure them away. And you do that by having to pay them a premium.

But if you're going to pay these escalated salaries, then you have to raise the billing rates to cover them, otherwise you're looking at loss leaders.

This has led to an inflationary cycle in both the salaries and the hourly rates being charged clients. For some of the lawyers that left here, their billing rates jumped overnight by as much as $100 an hour. Maybe they got that much smarter overnight, but I think it's probably just a reflection of the economics and what it takes to justify the changes in compensation.

Question: How has increased competition affected Lionel Sawyer & Collins?

Answer: We have had to respond to the market, so I've had to face the fact that the starting salaries for lawyers has been ratcheting up and I have to stay competitive.

That has a ripple effect throughout the firm. But the thing you try to compete upon in a service business is the quality of your service. Ultimately, what we have to offer is competency and quality of commitment to client.

We have all kinds of talent strewn about the firm in different levels and areas. (The competition) makes you feel sometimes like you have a target on your back, but that's the nature of a competitive marketplace. It's our job to make sure they stay behind.

Question: Would Lionel Sawyer & Collins ever consider expanding into other states?

Answer: I suppose it's always possible. It would have to be a special opportunity for us, whether to follow one of our clients who needs us or to be able to apply some special skills that we have, something that would differentiate us from the local lawyers. Otherwise, we would be in the same position the out-of-state firms are when they come here.

Question: What role does the practice of gaming law play at Lionel Sawyer & Collins?

Answer: The litigation side of the firm has never been less than 50 percent of our revenues. Gaming has been as high as 20 percent to 25 percent with transactional work a like amount.

A great bulk of our work is in litigation, but I wouldn't say one is more important that the other. You have to stay staffed and be ready in each area.

Question: What was it like working with high-profile people, such as Governor Sawyer (who died in 1996)? What is it like working with Sam Lionel (who is still practicing law)?

Answer: Almost everything I've been able to achieve in this profession (came) through the opportunities Sam and Grant gave me.

They offered encouragement and allowed me the opportunities to go out and make own mistakes and create my own successes.