Fisher Phillips’ stature as one of the nation’s best labor and employment firms has always been about more than attracting the best talent in the field – as important as that is. For Roger Quillen, the key has been sticking to the core principles espoused by the pair of firm founders, Ike Fisher and Erle Phillips. Quillen ought to know: The Atlanta-based partner has been Chairman and Managing Partner for two decades, during which time the firm’s size has more than tripled and its revenues quadrupled. A member of Lawdragon’s Most Powerful Employment Lawyers guide, Quillen earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees at Ohio State University.
LD: As the longtime leader of Fisher Phillips, can you share some characteristics that set the firm apart?
Roger Quillen: I am in my twentieth consecutive year as Chairman and Managing Partner of Fisher Phillips, and I am grateful to have led the firm during a period of growth from 115 to 380 attorneys, from five locations to over thirty, and from revenue of less than $50 million to over $200 million. After all these years, not much surprises me, but I admit I am fascinated by how well our firm remains true to the ideals of its founders and how valuable that has turned out to be in distinguishing us positively in such a crowded marketplace of management-side workplace lawyers.
LD: What were the ideals of the founders?
RQ: From inception, Fisher Phillips has lived by two guiding principles taught and modeled by its founders, Ike Fisher and Erle Phillips. Ike understood clients primarily as businesses with business goals and challenges. He knew instinctively that each business had its own definition of success and, more specifically, its own idea of what it meant to win. He exhorted the lawyers he touched to visit and learn about a client’s business and industry and to gain insights about a client’s unique philosophy. Most importantly he counseled lawyers to understand legal challenges, obstacles and threats through a client’s eyes – not as opportunities to showcase legal skills, but as business problems to be avoided or resolved consistently with an owner’s unique goals.
Ike enjoyed using the metaphor of the golf caddy to explain how he understood the relationship between a good lawyer and a client. The caddy’s job is to assist a golfer in getting the golf ball from the tee, into the fairway, onto the green and into the cup in as few strokes as possible. Sometimes, the golfer hits a shot into the rough. A golfer doesn’t want the ball in the rough. The caddy’s job is to assist the golfer in getting the ball back into the fairway, onto the green and into the cup as efficiently as possible. According to Ike, the rough is to the golfer what a legal problem is to a client. The client doesn’t enjoy finding itself in a challenging legal problem, any more than a golfer enjoys being in the rough. The client wants to resolve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible and get back to achieving its business goals. The good lawyer understands this. No matter how intellectually stimulating a legal problem might appear to be for the lawyer, the good lawyer puts that aside to assist the client in achieving its goals.
LD: What about Erle Phillips?
RQ: Erle Phillips augmented Ike’s uniquely business-centered approach to practice with a commitment and dedication to excellent legal analysis and work product – not just sometimes or most of the time, but every time. If one of the two could be described as a brilliant legal scholar, it was Erle. He was blessed with a brilliant legal mind and strong work ethic, and to the discomfort of many he held all of the firm’s lawyers to his high standards. Remarkably, as late as 1970, Erle still personally reviewed and approved every written piece of substantive legal work that was allowed to leave the firm. That became unworkable when the firm surpassed fifteen attorneys, but systems were immediately installed to ensure continued excellence.
Together, Ike and Erle planted the DNA of the firm, which has remained firmly in place for more than seven decades. Today, in more than 30 locations and through hundreds of lawyers who never met the founders, this DNA is easily identifiable in the firm’s distinctive brand promises. Fisher Phillips promises to understand every client primarily as a business with business goals and challenges and to understand our role as helping the client to achieve its idea of success. And Fisher Phillips promises to deliver this outlook, as well as strong legal analysis and work product, everywhere and every time a client interacts with us.
LD: Has it been challenging to adhere to these principles with the firm’s growth?
RQ: The bigger and more dispersed Fisher Phillips becomes, the harder it is to live up to these promises. But we have never lost sight of them, even as we have grown to nearly 400 lawyers in over 30 locations. That is why we devoted our entire 2018 all-attorney meeting and retreat weekend to the theme, “Living Our Brand.” These promises were fundamental to our founders and remain fundamental to who we are today. It is essential for every lawyer and all of our legal support staff to understand this. It is what makes us special. These promises and behaviors are our secret sauce.