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Profile Tom Turner inherits a dedication to practicing law locally as Procopio’s new managing partner



Title:

Managing partner, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP


Education:

UCLA; Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley


Age:

46


Family:

Wife, Jennifer; children, Elizabeth, 15, Carolyn, 13, Will, 10


Hobbies:

Golf, softball


Community Service:

Former president of the San Diego League, Home Start (a child abuse prevention and family support agency), San Diego County Taxpayers Association; volunteers for Kids Korps; and coaches in the Solana Beach Little League


Tom Turner Inherits a Dedication To Practicing Law Locally as Procopio’s New Managing Partner

It’s not unusual to find Tom Turner ducking out of the office a little early during baseball season.

No, he’s not headed to a skybox at Qualcomm Stadium to watch a Padres game. He leaves to suit up as a coach for his son, who plays baseball in the Solana Beach Little League.

Then again, Turner, 46, who heads the Downtown law firm of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, as managing partner, doesn’t do things like most executives.

Nor does the firm operate like similar size practices.

When Turner became managing partner about six months ago, he undertook a greater workload. Yet, he didn’t let it stifle his duties around the office or on the Little League field.

Although Procopio is the fifth-largest law firm in San Diego with 70 attorneys, according to the San Diego Business Journal’s Book of Lists, Turner says they retain a small-firm feel.

“We work a little more one-on-one, with partners dealing with clients,” Turner says. “I like to get directly involved with my clients’ transactions when I know the deal and I know the individual.”

When Turner took the firm’s top post, he was determined not to lurk in the background and simply write up deals at the end. He remained a practicing real estate transaction attorney , the job he’s held in his seven years with the firm.

One reason he’s able to stay in touch with the day-to-day operations of the office is the presence of Jim Perkins, the firm’s chief operating officer.

Perkins isn’t a lawyer, but he brings a business approach Turner says is crucial to the success of any law firm.

“He’s brings a fresh perspective for us,” Turner says. “I think it’s really important for me to keep (practicing law) to really stay in touch with the day-to-day issues all the lawyers around the firm are experiencing.”


Law Over Profits

Turner’s drive to successfully lead the firm as managing partner and remain within reach of his clients parallels with the practice’s philosophy as well.

Although Procopio wants to remain profitable, billing hours are not the main priority.

“Our real focus is on providing good value,” Turner says. “Top-quality legal service is not cheap. But we have a different mentality. We have more of a focus on providing good legal service than billing hours.”

Over the past five years, Turner has seen the firm double in size. Procopio started 2001 by adding 15 new attorneys, expanding to six floors in the Union Bank building and acquiring a couple of smaller practices.

Though law firms add new associates and participate in acquisitions on a daily basis, Procopio has been called an exception to the rule.

Rather than following the “new law firm mantra,” as California Law Business describes a new trend, Procopio hasn’t grown by adding offices across the country.


Spurning Merger Offers

The Downtown office is Procopio’s only location, and that’s the way they want it.

“We’ve been lucky enough not just to survive, but to thrive,” Turner says. “Local firms are having trouble because of competition from big regional and national firms coming to town.”

Turner admits there have been merger offers from several larger firms, and their answer has been the same.

“We’ve said no every time because we really want to be able to maintain our unique culture and control our own destiny.”

Besides, that’s the way founding partners Alec L. Cory and Edward J. Schwartz would want it.

“This firm is in good hands,” said Cory, who retired from practicing law in 1993 but routinely works from his office at Procopio. “We’ve confined our practice to the region and county, and I think it’s been a good thing for us.

“It’s kept the closeness of the people in the office, from attorneys at all levels and the staff.”


A Proud Tradition

When Cory and Schwartz, both Navy veterans, started the firm in 1949, they shared a single 300-square-foot office in Downtown’s old San Diego Trust & Savings building. Cory’s current office is larger than that. The lone surviving founder said he’s proud of where the firm has come and where it is going under Turner.

“It makes me very proud of the people who have carried the firm on, and I think, retained and improved the culture of the firm which has always been important to me,” Cory says.

In addition to hiring associates, Procopio has grown by acquiring smaller firms.

In October 1999, the firm acquired Dain & Lai, a local three-attorney intellectual property firm. Two months later, Procopio lured four corporate and securities transaction attorneys from San Diego-based Hillyer & Irwin.

They didn’t stop there. In May, the firm acquired the local six-attorney office of Ramseyer & Kuhlman, which specializes in construction law.

Larry Watanabe of local legal recruitment firm Watanabe Nason & Seltzer told California Law Business that Procopio is uniquely positioned in the local marketplace.

“Unlike San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have a number of successful boutique firms, Procopio is one of the only San Diego-bred firms in the area that has survived despite having no outside offices,” Watanabe notes.

Watanabe adds the firm has succeeded because of its select clientele and services.

Procopio primarily serves small to mid-size startup companies in need of intellectual property and corporate work, but typically can’t afford the high fees of larger firms.

The firm’s commercial real estate practice also encompasses retail, industrial, technology, health care, residential and mixed-use projects.

Before making managing partner, Turner headed the real estate team. He’s handled the acquisition and disposition of extensive income properties and assisted in the planning and development of a variety of commercial projects.

He admits he’s faced some challenges in juggling both his management and practicing roles, but Turner appears to have it mastered.

The balance of office and home life is also expected of the firm’s attorneys. By no means are the attorneys given any leeway or cut any slack when it comes to getting their work done, but Turner urges his staff to have a life away from the office.

“A well-balanced lifestyle is important,” Turner says. “We want to maintain profitability for a long time, but we don’t want anyone to get burned out.”


Following Career Path

There are a number of attorneys in the firm who have been there since they finished law school.

Turner, on the other hand, didn’t always see the legal profession as his top priority.

He graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree from UCLA. But as a youngster in a military family, he wasn’t exposed to many careers while growing up and was unsure what he wanted to do with the degree.

“After college, I didn’t have a clue,” Turner recalls.

When he moved to San Diego after finishing at UCLA, he didn’t rush to get a “career-type” job. Turner held several odd jobs, from moving furniture to selling thrill rides in Hawaii.

It wasn’t until three years after graduation he decided to enter law school. He got his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley and has practiced law in California since 1982.

“I wanted a career where I could make a decent living and be intellectually challenged,” Turner said.

Sitting in his 21st floor corner office, with soft jazz playing in the background, Turner says the legal field has been that and more.

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