The recession has affected every business, from major, multinational corporations to corner mom-and-pop diners. “Law firms are no exception,” says Margo Green of Green Cordonnier & House, a family law practice. “Without a doubt, the business of managing a law firm has changed since the economy slowed down. Beginning with the second quarter in 2009, it became evident that the economic downturn was having a significant impact on the divorce segment of our practice. People weren’t coming in for consultations as often, and they weren’t filing for divorce, not because their marriages had suddenly improved, but because they couldn’t afford it.”
Generally, divorce filings decrease from November through December and increase during the summer, Green explains. “People usually wait to file until the holidays and the school year are over, so we plan our budget accordingly,” she says. “But when the economy tanked, it was difficult to project earnings for the coming year—the statistics were so skewed, we couldn’t compare them to previous years.” Contributing to the problem was the sluggish housing market, she adds. “The largest asset a couple has is usually the home. If it doesn’t sell, they’ll often postpone filing for divorce.”
As managing partner of the firm she founded in 1999, Green saw the downturn as a challenge. “I took a long look at the bottom line and slashed expenses wherever possible, without cutting into client service,” she says. “And I stayed in emergency mode, just in case the slump continued or we got hit by a second wave.” One area where she didn’t skimp was advertising. “It was hard to spend advertising dollars when dollars weren’t coming in, but people saw our ads, and they came to our door. It got us through a tough time,” she says.
Thanks to belt-tightening and careful planning, Green rode out the storm without laying off a single employee. “I kept telling myself things would get better—and they did, beginning in early 2010 and gathering steam since then,” she says. “We still have seven experienced, highly skilled, compassionate attorneys and a terrific support staff. We’re still dedicated to understanding our clients’ goals and protecting their interests throughout the entire divorce process.” The personal touch is important to Green, a former social worker. “I always wanted to make a difference in the world by helping families—ultimately, that’s why I went into law,” she says. “I started my own practice and kept it small, so we could get to know our clients and their needs. I didn’t want to be just another cog in a massive firm.”
The slowdown in business had an unexpected benefit, Green reports. “With fewer cases to handle, we were able to spend even more time with each client,” she says. “That’s harder to do when you have five cases coming to trial in a single month. So, if anything, the recession renewed our commitment to building strong, trust-based relationships, supporting clients in every way while they seek a better future.”
On the Cover: Founded in 1999, Clayton law firm Green Cordonnier & House provides representation in all areas of divorce and family law, including custody, child support and property division. The firm is located at 8000 Maryland Ave. For more information, call 726-0455 or visit greencordonnierhouse.com. Cover design by Dawn Stremlau, Photo by Wagner Photography