In 1973, Russ Kreis opened Kreis Enderle’s first law office in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As the firm expanded to other Southwest Michigan communities, new law partners came on board, including firm namesakes Alan Enderle, Reid Hudgins, and Bob Borsos. Today, Kreis Enderle has 27 attorneys across offices in Portage (Greater Kalamazoo), Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, and St. Joseph.
The attorneys who forged Kreis Enderle’s path shared a common vision for the firm: provide quality legal services to clients, cultivate a dynamic work environment for attorneys and staff, and maintain an active presence in the community. Now, 50 years later, this vision still stands as the law firm’s guiding principle.
According to Managing Partner Kay Kossen, Kreis Enderle has stood the test of time and continues to set itself apart from other firms for several reasons, including:
- A dynamic and consistent firm culture.
- Solid relationships and community involvement.
- A focus on technology and firm administration.
Firm Dynamics and Culture
The leadership at Kreis Enderle strives to cultivate a culture that focuses not only on providing quality legal services but also on office camaraderie and community involvement.
“We are pretty unique in West Michigan because we have four offices that service clients in many counties,” Kossen says. “We are able to maintain our culture over those four offices while each office still maintains its own little ‘mini culture.’ I do not know of another law firm like ours, and I think that is a strength of ours going into the future. I see other law firms trying to do what we do. That is, a big firm opens an office in a small community but cannot make a go of it because it only has a space – it does not have a person. Kreis Enderle is different because our attorneys are local and are immersed in the communities where we have offices.”
The firm’s leaders do a fantastic job of maintaining consistency among the offices, Kossen says. “I think our clients like the fact that we are regional. Our clients know what they are going to get when they hire us. We are a one-stop shop for many areas of practice. We can do just about anything. In fact, we do a lot of cross-selling among our practice groups.”
Kreis Enderle offers its attorneys benefits that large firms do not, says Kossen. “We definitely offer a better culture. We might not pay as much as the big firms, but we offer a better quality of life … at least, I think so. Yes, we have attrition just like everybody else, but we do a good job with our hiring and retention committee, as well as our firm structure, our committee structure, and our practice group structure to keep our associates and newer people engaged.”
So how does Kreis Enderle keep its people engaged and foster a consistent culture across four locations? “We organize in-person activities,” Kossen says. “We have several firm-wide gatherings each year. This year’s 50th-anniversary celebration was one of those gatherings. We always have a holiday party for all employees, which is a wonderful fellowship opportunity.
The firm also has quarterly get-togethers, which rotate among the four offices. Our practice group meetings span the offices, and we meet via Zoom so people can actually see each other and are not just sitting on a phone call. Our associates participate in a monthly mastermind group where we talk about business development, firm administration, and the business of private practice.”
Relationships and Community
Since the beginning, Kreis Enderle has been dedicated to establishing relationships in the communities where the attorneys practice and live.
“For example, I am on the board of the Brass Band of Battle Creek,” Kossen says. “The band includes world-renowned players who perform twice a year at Kellogg Auditorium. They also serve our community by putting on a camp for high school and middle school students in the summer. It is a fabulous group of people who are deeply involved in the culture of Battle Creek. It is lengthy, historical relationships like these with nonprofits and organizations that set Kreis Enderle apart from other firms. What we do comes from our own personal interests. Everyone is involved in something.”
Being immersed in the local communities also helps the firm hire and retain attorneys, Kossen explains. “We have an active hiring and retention committee. One of our approaches to finding good lawyers is our summer clerkship program, where clerks work at the firm, and if we like them and they like us, we offer them a job. We are also constantly looking for good lateral attorneys who have the entrepreneurial, private-practice attitude that we like to see for developing business and the hard work it takes to actually be a lawyer.”
Associate Mentorship Program
Another benefit that Kreis Enderle offers is an active mentorship program for its younger associate attorneys.
“When we hire someone who is not shareholder tenure – an associate attorney – we pair them with a mentor at the firm who is a shareholder,” Kossen says. “The shareholder is responsible for meeting with the mentee, providing advice about firm items, and being a ‘sounding board,’ as well as managing their workload and supervising the actual legal work product of the associate.”
The firm’s practice groups are also actively involved in the mentorship program. “We have several practice groups at the firm,” Kossen says. “Associates are members of groups that interest them, usually two groups. The practice group itself acts as a mentor. It has a list serve and acts as a sounding board for issues the associate may have trouble solving.”
Embracing Technology and Systems
Over the years, Kreis Enderle has successfully adapted to changes in technology and law firm management structure. Most recently, the firm has been exploring the exploding realm of artificial intelligence (AI).
“Although we just started talking about AI,” Kossen says, “I think we’re a little farther ahead of some firms that will look at you and say, ‘What’s AI?’ Because we are involved in cutting-edge technology groups, the firm is doing a good job of staying on top of things. We are constantly looking at technology and security.”
Another difference at Kreis Enderle is that, unlike many law firms that decided years ago to hire outside vendors to handle information technology (IT) systems, the firm kept its IT staff in-house. “We are not trendy,” Kossen says. “We do the best job for us and the way we practice. We are not going to follow ‘the big boys’ unless it works for us. I am pleased that we retained in-house IT when most were outsourcing.
For Kreis Enderle, the administrative team is top-notch, and it comes full circle with cultivating relationships. “We keep investing in the people and relationships that keep us afloat and keep us going,” Kossen says. “We need our director of finance and operations, IT manager, and accounting department – I am not going to rely on a company in another state with Zoom meetings or phone calls when I have a problem. I think we are making good decisions with our core administrative structure at the firm.”
Staying apprised of technological advances is a priority at Kreis Enderle. “It is important for the security of our clients,” Kossen says. “It is also important for our attorneys and staff to get their work done. In the end, we are doing what is best for our people.”
What the Future Holds
“One of the mantras I have stuck with is, ‘Providing the best client service we can give,’” Kossen says when asked about the firm’s future. “We are very good at this – and I think we are better at it because of our size and business model. We will stick with that approach because it has made us a success so far.”
As the firm moves forward, it will continue to develop efficiencies that will keep it afloat, Kossen says. “Things are changing all the time. We are always looking at our office spaces, updates to our spaces, how much space we need, the hybrid model of working in the office and remotely, and so forth. Our client service and our efficiency will keep the firm in business for another 50 years. Yes, it is a challenge … and I believe we’re up for it.”
Managing Partner Kay Kossen focuses her practice on real estate law, including commercial transactions, residential transactions, transfers of ownership, title litigation, developments, condominiums, and homeowners’ associations. She also counsels clients on estate planning matters such as long-term care planning and Medicaid benefits, succession planning, and asset protection using trusts, wills, deeds, and power of attorney documents.