In The News
Friday, December 7, 2012
Buffalo Business First: C-Level Executive @ Work: Gerald Lippes, Business Lawyer
C-Level Exec: Gerald Lippes, Business Lawyer
By Matt Chandler
Western New York is full of distinguished attorneys and successful business owners. Gerald Lippes, founder of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, built an impressive career balancing both.
He founded the Buffalo law firm more than 40 years ago and has also been involved in the ownership of countless businesses. Through it all, he has enjoyed watching the practice of law adjust over the years.
“The law has been evolving since the signing of the United States Constitution,” he said. “But the thing that hasn’t changed is that we are always working and acting on behalf of others.”
That mission of service to clients is aided by having his hand in so many business deals, he said.
When advising someone, he is more than a lawyer giving advice, he said. Rather, he is a fellow business owner who understands life on the other side of the desk.
“I have been able to sort of bridge being involved with the law firm and being involved in business, and every one of the businesses I’ve been involved with have been clients,” he said. “I’ve had a plant burn down; I know what it’s like for a union to walk out. About everything my clients have experienced, so have I.”
He attributes his law firm’s success, in part, to his experience with businesses. Tying in various endeavors with the practice helped him to stand out and grow. But like any venture, growth came with some bumps in the road.
“I wanted to be a business lawyer because that was what the firm I first worked for did, but I don’t know if there could have been a worse possible time in Western New York to want to be a business lawyer,” he said, “From 1965 to today, the community has lost its manufacturing base.”
Lippes was a bit nontraditional in his approach.
“I’ve never been one who is very good at drafting documents and some of the other things you typically expect from a lawyer,” he said. “I like to counsel people, and that’s really what I’ve done most of my life – counsel businesses, banks and commercial real estate developers. They are the ones that make up the core of our law practice.”
Law firms have to be reactive to survive, he added, because the legal needs of the community evolve through the years.
“You talk about health-care law or environmental law practices – when I got out of law school, those things didn’t exist,” he said. “So law firms and lawyers had two choices: You either had to react to the changes or you were going to be left behind.”
Lippes said his firm has strived to maintain a core philosophy that is people-centered.
“I’ve always tried to bring people into the firm who were both smarter than me and who would fit in with the other lawyers and staff in terms of the type of personality we were trying to build for the firm,” he said. “We have always worked to bring in the top minds in what they did, because we knew the clients would recognize that and appreciate it.”
He has worked with the University at Buffalo and SUNY Buffalo Law School as an alumnus. He helped to create the Dean’s Council for the law school and served as the first chairman.
“The community has been very good to me, and I see giving of one’s time and treasure is an important aspect of community life,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t have to do with the law practice; it is just very gratifying to be able to help.”
It’s a philosophy that Lippes has extended to the community at large, supporting numerous organizations and the arts.
“For any of the groups I’ve been involved in, I just tried to work with organizations I felt had a major impact on the community,” he said. “For example, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy is world-renowned. And with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, it helps put Western New York on the map.”
Though he has passed on daily operations to the law firm’s managing partner, Scott Friedman, Lippes said he has no immediate plans to retire.
“The enjoyable part of being a lawyer is that we are representing so many different and diverse clients. We get to work on different things every day,” he said. “Lawyers get to live a totally vicarious existence through their clients, and that keeps it fresh and interesting.”