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Two Indianapolis-based law firms, one of them black-owned, have teamed up to create a powerhouse team they believe will attract clients wanting more diversity in their legal representation.

The alliance reflects a growing trend that found its way here in early June when partners at Bingham McHale and at minority-owned Coleman Stevenson announced that they would work together to represent Fortune 500s and other companies.
Gerald Coleman, a partner at Coleman Stevenson, said the alliance allows smaller, minority-owned firms a better opportunity to represent large corporations.

"From our standpoint, an alliance allows us to handle complex issues for larger corporations, and it removes any capacity issues that may come up," he said. "This way, Fortune 500 companies are not concerned about giving work to a smaller firm and wondering if (it) will get done."

Coleman said his firm was sought out for an alliance by larger firms seeking to satisfy the needs of their clients. Coleman Stevenson, a practice with seven attorneys, is dedicated solely to business and corporate legal services.
"Corporations are recognizing the importance of diversity in legal representation," Coleman said. "It's on the front burner for some of these firms."

Attorneys at other minority-owned firms in the Indianapolis area agreed with Coleman.

"These big firms start scrambling for minority lawyers when corporations put out statements encouraging firms to hire minority counsel in order to keep them as clients," said Kenneth T. Roberts, senior partner at Roberts & Bishop, considered the largest black-owned firm in Indiana. The firm specializes in corporate defense.

With eight attorneys on staff, Roberts & Bishop's client list includes American Airlines, GlaxoSmithKline, Motorola, Quaker Oats and American automakers General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

"It's just good business to have diverse lawyers," Roberts said.

Coleman said the relationship with Bingham McHale allows his firm a chance to grow.

"By forming this alliance and taking on new clients, this is an opportunity for our firm," Coleman said. "As our clientele and workload increases, opportunities to bring on more staff will increase as well."

With offices in Indianapolis, Hamilton County, Vincennes and Jasper, and about 150 attorneys on staff, Bingham McHale is the fourth- largest law firm in the state. Specializing in business law, the firm works for national and international clients.

Bingham McHale partner Roderick H. Morgan said the alliance with Coleman Stevenson is a "win-win" for both firms.

"It will provide them with the depths of experience we bring and the capacity to do more legal work," Morgan said. "Having them on board will allow us to bring a more diverse approach to how we solve problems."

While the two firms will work together to seek out and represent new clients, both firms will remain independent.

"We are not trying to take over Coleman Stevenson," said Morgan, who also is chairman of the board of the Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce. "This is not a partnership. It's simply an alliance that will allow both firms the opportunity to work together to provided legal representation to large corporations."

Clients of Coleman Stevenson say the law firm's services were always first-class, but they have improved further since the alliance.
Ronnie Taylor, president and chief executive of Midwest Residential, a minority-owned and Indianapolis-based social services agency that provides in-home care to people with disabilities and seniors, praised the two firms' decision to work together.

"The alliance is great. We've had a couple of instances where we were able to work with both firms," Taylor said. "With Bingham McHale being the larger firm, they had a few connections that were helpful and some experience that was very beneficial."

Morgan said the law firms' alliance is the first of its kind in Indiana as far as he knows, but he noted that firms in other states already have similar relationships.

"There's an Atlanta firm partnered with a firm on the East Coast and a (Washington) D.C. firm partnered with one in Chicago," Morgan said. "Diversity is becoming an emphasis in all business, not just legal business."

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