By Christine Graf
Attorneys Michael O’Connor and Elizabeth Little of Little & O’Connor Attorneys PC of Glens Falls have merged their practice with FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth PC.
Both attorneys and their paralegals have made the move to 68 Warren St. where FitzGerald Morris is headquartered. Prior to the merger, the firm employed 14 attorneys and a total staff of 32.
According to FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth managing partner John Aspland Jr., he and O’Connor have been friends for many years. The idea of merging firms began to take root 10 years ago.
“We had some communications about 10 years ago where we started discussing some of the synergies between what he does and what we do and the clients that we have that have some common interests. We started that conversation and occasionally over the years revisited the discussion. He is an icon in the local legal community and has some fantastic clients that are very active,” Aspland said.
They recently revisited the idea and after determining that a merger would enable them to better serve their clients, they decided to move forward. The agreement was finalized on July 8 and took effect Aug. 1.
“It just made a ton of sense, and the timing seemed right,” said Aspland. “From his client’s perspective, they have the benefit of Michael’s years of experience and the additional benefit of our experience and our team size. That’s a big thing for him and has always been a big thing for us.
“We really approach all of our clients’ needs from a team-based aspect. We have people who tend to focus their legal practices in certain areas. Instead of trying to wear too many hats, we try to be very good at the one hat that we are wearing. That gives each of our practice areas a tremendous amount of backup.”
O’Connor brings with him more than 50 years of experience in real estate, land use, and development. He will join FitzGerald Morris’ existing real estate practice as a senior council.
“We brought in five decades worth of knowledge,” said Aspland. “From our end it was a great acquisition. Everyone is beyond thrilled.”
Attorney Elizabeth Little specializes in litigation and also performs extensive nonprofit and pro bono work. She will continue in all roles at FitzGerald Morris and will also bring her mediation skills to the practice.
“She a fantastic asset,” said Aspland. “She also has a mediation practice where she focuses on the alternative resolution approach. Instead of going to court on everything, she tries to resolve conflicts outside of court,” said Aspland. “That’s a bit of a new venture, and she has become certified as a mediator. I think that’s a great avenue for us to work with her on and we have the space for it.”
The building at Warren Street is almost 25,000 square feet with conference rooms “that are well sized and well outfitted. Two of them have the technology to conduct virtual mediations and virtual depositions,” he said.
According to Aspland, the firm’s pre-COVID investment in technology paid off when the pandemic forced the closure of their office. He credits practice manager Kyle Fish for ensuring that the firm was at the forefront with its technology which allowed the firm’s staff of 32 to work remotely.
“We were right there ready to answer the call when the pandemic started. We had all of the pieces in place. A few friends of mine weren’t as ahead of the curve as we were, and it was a scramble in order for them to be productive from home,” he said.
Their entire staff has returned to the office, but mediations, arbitrations, court appearances, and depositions remain predominantly virtual.
“Some people can’t wait to get back to in person and I’m one of those people,” he said. “I like the personal interactions with the court and the other attorneys, but not having to drive to the courts is a benefit to our clients because they aren’t paying for us to travel.”
The firm’s trusts and estate group has been unusually busy as a result of the pandemic. At a time when people are dying from COVID, many people have become concerned that they have no estate planning in place.
“Those are the things that people put on the back burner like getting a will or health care proxy done or setting up a trust or doing estate planning,” said Aspland. “People have been more focused on that which means that they come to us. My partner that runs that group, Carl Baker, is at the top of the pile of statewide practitioners of trust and estates. He’s been doing this for probably 45 years or so, so he’s been getting a lot of calls from people.”
With the addition of O’Connor and Little, Aspland said attorneys at the firm will be busier than ever. O’Connor brings with him 50 years worth of clients who will have access to attorneys with a wide variety of specialties and similar values.
“We have a very similar philosophy. This is a personal relationship business, and people hire us for the work that in certain respects and at certain times is most important thing going on in their life,” he said. “When you have 50 years worth of clients that are coming into a new environment, from the client’s perspective they want to know ‘Do I still have the same team and is my team even better?’ And I think the answer is yes.”