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Published November 30, 2011, 12:43 PM


Law firm that helps create business

By: Alan Van Ormer, Prairie Business Magazine

Pearce & Durick has been a pillar in the Bismarck, ND community since the early 1900s providing legal counsel to Fortune 500 companies, regional corporations, and private interests.

Throughout the years it has been diversification that has kept the law firm viable over the years. “Diversification helps in that if one area a law practice is down another would be in an upswing or at least maintaining,” states Larry Boschee, a partner in the law firm. “In addition, one lawyer working with a client in one area might find that client needs services in another area and we would be able to make the referral right within the firm.”

The firm started in 1919 when Edward Cox and Herbert O’Hare, two prominent Bismarck attorneys, formed a law partnership. In 1944, William Pearce joined the firm. Then in 1970, Pearce’s son, Harry Pearce, joined the firm and became one of the nation’s top product liability defense attorneys.

The firm’s name was changed to Pearce & Durick in 1985. Today, Pearce & Durick focuses primarily on civil litigation. This includes an emphasis on product liability defense, commercial litigation, insurance defense work, oil and gas litigation, school law litigation, and governmental liability.

Boschee believes that what sets Pearce & Durick apart in litigation issues is the work the attorneys do learning the facts of the case and researching and knowing the law that applies to the facts. “There are more nuances in the law as it develops. You need to know the nuances.”

On the non-litigation side, attorneys work with patents and trademarks, advise people about business issues including business formation, business transaction, probate work, advice on estates, advice on oil and gas issues, and provide title opinions for oil companies.

Boschee notes that the practice of law is becoming more competitive and demanding. “A great emphasis exists on delivering high quality legal services faster and at a lower cost,” he adds.

One trend is the increasing use of alternative dispute resolution.

“More civil cases are being settled and fewer cases are being tried,” Boschee says, adding that only 10 percent of civil lawsuits are tried today, which is down from about 25 percent twenty-five years ago. “Parties are settling cases because trials are expensive and the outcomes are uncertain. Parties are increasingly using alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve cases.”

Another trend is the growth of oil and gas law in western North Dakota. “Many lawyers who never practiced oil and gas law before are acquiring the skill sets needed to meet the tremendous demand for legal services in this area,” Boschee states.

Pearce & Durick’s oil and gas practice has been its strongest growth area. Pearce & Durick offers clients a wealth of services in the oil and gas industry. “We represent clients in the litigation of disputes including environmental and personal injury matters,” Boschee says. “We have experience in the examination of title and preparation of drilling and division order title opinions. Members also handle probates, lease reviews, negotiations and legislative matters.”

Then there is the growth in the number of lawyers in western North Dakota. “The Bakken oil boom has generated not only more oil and gas legal work, but the ripple effect has generated more legal work in many other areas as well,” he says.

Another trend is movement away from traditional hourly billing. Many clients are seeking representation on a basis other than the traditional hourly billing method. Forms of alternative billing systems include the flat rate, in which a client pays a fixed fee for the lawyers work, and the capped rate, in which a client pays an hourly rate, but with the total amount capped at a specific amount.

Pearce & Durick is also seeing increased use in technology. “Technology has impacted greatly the practice of law from what it was 20, or even just five years ago,” Boschee says. “For the most part, lawyers no longer dictate their briefs or pleadings, but do their own word processing. Additionally, attorney’s no longer mail or fax documents, they send them by email and filings with the court are also now done electronically.”

Then there is the increasing competition from national and regional law firms. “Aided by technology, law firms can represent clients anywhere in the nation,” Boschee says. “Lawyers can specialize not only in a particular substantive legal area, but in a particular substantive legal area for a particular client.”

There has also become increasing competition for legal services from the clients themselves, as well as increasing competition from clients outsourcing work overseas.

The primary challenge is to meet the competition and to continue to grow. “We are meeting this challenge by continuing to provide high quality legal services at a reasonable cost, and by expanding into new practice areas,” Boschee says, adding that another way the challenge is met is by having our lawyers stay at the cutting edge in the substantive areas in which they practice. While Pearce & Durick sees competition in North Dakota from out-of-state law firms, it also competes in other states.

Then there is the challenge of maintaining the proper work/life balance for lawyers and staff. “We are addressing this challenge by being flexible in allowing time off from work, by allowing work to be done during nontraditional working hours, and in allowing work to be done remotely by using computers,” Boschee says.

A law firm can also have a positive impact on a community or a region by volunteering to do civic service work, by doing pro bono work, and by having members participate and take leadership roles in committees and associations aimed at bettering the law or the legal environment.

“A law firm can also have a positive impact on a community or region by helping to create new businesses, or by helping business come together for a business deal,” Boschee states. “By helping to create new business or new business deals, a law firm can help improve the economy and quality of life. Pearce & Durick lawyers have helped clients create many new businesses in the region, and have aided its clients in negotiating and structuring many business deals.” PB

Alan Van Ormer -