Few companies are as heavily ingrained in Omaha’s history as Baird Holm. In the literal sense, Baird Holm’s attorney Clair Baird helped pen the current Nebraska Constitution back in 1920, nearly 47 years after the firm’s inception. This year, the firm celebrates 150 years.
Key Ingredient: People
Originally named Montgomery and Son, the firm was founded by Civil War Union General Milton Montgomery and his son, Carroll S. Montgomery in 1873. For reference, the Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865.
Milton Montgomery’s steadfast determination to return to his brigade following an arm amputation and six weeks as a prisoner of war set the tone for the firm. He could have accepted a recruitment position with far less danger, but instead, he went back to the front lines. His men — his co-workers, if you will — were more important than his comforts.
That comradery remains today. It’s one of the reasons the firm has a high retention rate and several lateral hires.
“When I interviewed, I got to sit around a long conference table with probably 12 of the partners in the labor section and you could just see their relationships through their responses,” said Kara Stockdale, who was named partner in December of 2019.
“You could see that not only did they respect each other, but they had a great affection for one another. And that was when I knew I wanted to be a part of that group.”
It’s a refrain echoed by executive committee member and Partner Grayson Derrick. Derrick interviewed with Baird Holm during his first year of law school and remembers “walking out of my interview thinking that’s exactly where I want to be.”
He said his tour guide was Vickie Ahlers, who is still with the firm, but at the time was a first-year associate. Ahlers took him into an office with Bill Dittrick, who was a partner at the time, and attorney D. Nick Caporale, a former Nebraska Supreme Court Justice.
“That was very intimidating … but I was put immediately at ease because Bill turned to Vickie and asked her about her mother, who had been ill, before we started,” Derrick said.
“It stood out to me because here’s someone who has been practicing for 35 years, talking to someone that has been there for maybe seven months and his concern was not just about her practice, but how she was doing personally.”
Commitment to Diverse Leaders
For Amy Lawrenson, the promise of professional development from experts in the real estate field solidified her decision to join Baird Holm. At the time she had been happily working for Mutual of Omaha.
“I had an epiphany that this was the right opportunity for me,” she said. “It was with the assurance that I was going to get to work with people who were going to take a huge investment in me and create every opportunity for me to be successful in my career.”
She also saw the number of women in leadership positions, as well as the firm’s Women’s Initiative, as a strong indicator of her career’s potential trajectory.
“They had the highest percentage of women for a firm of its size in the region. And, those women weren’t just at the firm, but they were partners,” she said.
Today that remains true for the company, which recently received the Midsize Mansfield Certification Plus designation. The certification certifies that at least 30% of a midsize firm’s leadership is diverse.
“Nearly forty percent of our equity partners are female,” said Chris Hedican, managing partner.
Lawrenson became a partner in 2017 and chaired the Women’s Initiative for six years. This year she stepped back from the Women’s Initiative after being voted onto the executive committee.
Hedican and Derrick round out the three-person executive committee that essentially acts as the key decision-makers for the firm. It’s important to note that all three were elected to these roles by the partners.
Fostering the Next Generation
In a full circle moment, Lawrenson said she’s now in a position to help other young attorneys grow.
“That’s unique in the practice of law can be a very dog-eat-dog, and that’s not how [Baird Holm’s] system works,” she said.
At Baird Holm, new associates walk alongside senior associates in the beginning.
“The best way for a young attorney to learn is by being a part of the process,” Derrick said. “From the beginning, our associates are side by side with us so they can see not only the work, but they’re a part of those client conversations and meetings.”
Hedican said the firm also encourages associates and attorneys to select a mentor outside of their practice section to confide in.
“Everybody has insecurities,” he said. “It’s important to have outlets so that they understand they can be vulnerable and not fear that someone is going to judge them as unfit or incapable.”
He admits that mentoring and training on this level is time-consuming, but “it’s critical.”
“If you don’t take the time to tell them why their work was good or not good in certain areas they can’t learn,” he said. “Then you don’t have a firm that’s enduring.”
Building on a Legacy
Over the past 150 years, the firm has continued to evolve alongside its clientele.
Take, for example, the firm’s technology and intellectual property section that Derrick chairs.
“When I started in the technology section about 20 years ago a lot of what we were helping clients do was licensing and implementation of brand new electronic medical record systems,” Derrick said.
“Now there’s licensing or a software aspect to almost every piece of equipment or product that a hospital has.”
The same thing goes for financial institutions where electronic transfers, debit and credit cards, and cryptocurrencies have surged in the last decade.
Lateral hires, such as national fair housing expert Scott P. Moore, have also allowed the firm to add new practice areas.
“One thing that has changed is that when I came in we had lateral attorneys, but it wasn’t super common,” Hedican said. “[Now] over a third of our partners are lateral. From my knowledge, I’m the first lateral to become a managing partner.”
The combination of lateral attorneys and attorneys who started their careers at Baird Holm creates a varied ecosystem of 33 practice areas.
“I can walk down the hall and talk to Brandon Tomjack if I have a creditors’ rights issue, or I can go talk to Vickie Ahlers about a health care regulatory issue, or talk to Kara in immigration,” Derrick said.
The firm takes great pride in being at the forefront of renewable energy in the state of Nebraska.
“We’ve worked on essentially some capacity or another on almost every commercial grade renewable energy project in the state,” Lawrenson said.
Hedican credits Lawrenson with being one of the attorneys who started the section and worked to advance it to a “100-pound gorilla.”
Lawrenson said her passion for renewable energy projects comes from her background in a fifth-generation farming family in a small South Dakota community.
“Typically in agricultural communities the schools are suffering from a lack of financial support,” she said. “Tax incentives from wind projects can fund an entire school, or help with renovations or expansions.
“We love projects where you can see the impact.”