Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Like everyone, I enjoy me a Bush’s Baked Beans commercial. Jay and Duke’s witty banter over the secret family recipe highlights the joy of working with family. Unfortunately, not many of us can work with their talking family dog. (I mean, who else is there, besides Scooby Doo and Jake?)

Luckily, some can work with their two-legged family members. Working with family has been a key to the success of Melendres, Melendres & Harrigan P.C. Four of the five attorneys of this firm are related either by blood, through marriage, or through friendship. Paul Melendres and his wife Paige founded the firm in 2005 after leaving Biglaw in New York City to set up shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A year ago, Paul’s brother, Fred, and friend, Ryan Harrigan, left Biglaw to open the San Diego, California office.

Find out more about the firm, after the jump….

The partners at Melendres, Melendres & Harrigan were never required to define and formulate the firm’s culture. The culture was already in place. Indeed, the partners share similar values and working styles — which is why they set out to work together in the first place. When asked what those shared values were, I was told respect for each other and commitment to serve their clients.

Although Paul and Paige had great experiences at their New York firms, they were not able to rely on referrals to establish their client base in New Mexico, a very different market with different clients. So they got involved in the community and built their base by doing good work for one client at a time. From there, the base grew to include a wide variety of clients. In contrast, Ryan and Fred, who stayed in San Diego, are able to benefit from referrals from their former colleagues at Latham & Watkins and contacts made while at the firm.

All agree that the best aspect of their small-firm practice is the diversity of clients and matters, from litigation to healthcare regulatory work. And, the Melendreses (and Harrigan) enjoy the business of running a law firm.

As with most small firms, Melendres, Melendres & Harrigan struggles with how to best use technology, especially since the small firm has two offices. Their advice: find a good IT guy.

The firm has added one new member to its family, an associate, who has been an invaluable asset to the firm. (The firm also employs law school interns and summer associates.) Like any good parents, I mean partners, each partner has an interest in developing his or her offspring. And, luckily, it is one happy family.

I asked Fred if the firm had plans to grow. He told me that the firm does intend on growing, but in a way that maintains the firm’s culture. “We want to grow and be able to serve more clients and handle bigger matters,” he said. “But we do not plan on growing for the sake of growing. We want to continue to enjoy our work and our firm, so the future is one of managed growth.” Sounds like responsible family planning.

In sum, working with family can be the basis for a profitable small firm and a positive work environment. After all, who do you trust more than your family? Why should mobsters and popstars be the only ones who have lucrative family businesses?

For more information on the firm, check out their website.


Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.


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