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Law office innovations
Not So Small
An international network headed up by Charles Kagay arms boutique firms
with more firepower BY STAN SINBERG
Over the years, Charles Kagay has battled corporate giants accused of over-flexing their muscle. As
head of the International Network of Boutique and
Independent Law Firms, he’s now helping small
firms—like his own—maximize theirs.
“The INBLF gives boutique firms the combined
firepower and reach greater than that of the largest multinational law firm,” says the appellate attorney at Spiegel Liao & Kagay. The goal is to offer
clients the range of services of a big firm, with the
lower overhead of a small one, and typically with
senior attorneys handling their accounts. Members
have quick access to pre-vetted independent firms
in other practice areas and locations.
In North America, the network includes about 250
boutiques in 32 chapters, each limited to one firm
per practice area. Geographic areas vary greatly, with
roughly 40 miles separating the San Francisco and
Silicon Valley chapters; while in both Indiana and
Wisconsin, one chapter covers the entire state.
Kagay, who has headed up the INBLF for the
Supreme Court, and hosted by no less a presence
past five years, personally approves each new
member firm. In general, each focuses mainly on
one or two areas. Although applicants often find
that another firm already occupies their “slot,”
Kagay says there is regular turnover, mostly as
boutiques are absorbed into larger firms. Also,
come along—such as art law and elder law. The
network’s reputation has also expanded over the
years; its annual black-tie dinner in 2014 was held
in no less a venue than the Great Hall of the U.S.
than Justice Samuel Alito.
It started in 2004 with a phone call from New
York litigator Steven Spielvogel, who had formed
a network of boutique firms in New York City. Impressed by Kagay’s credentials, Spielvogel wanted
to enlist his help to take part in a second wave in
San Francisco, with the intention of expanding
nationally and internationally.
Initially, Kagay was reluctant to assume the
volunteer position, but then agreed.
“Appellate law is kind of an isolated field,” he
notes. “You don’t interact with other people that
much. This was an excuse to get to know other law-
yers.” Also, he adds, Spielvogel was very persuasive.
In the early days, he says, the “international”
part of INBLF was like the “world” in World Series:
limited to Canada. Now, there are member firms
in Latin America, Europe, and Asia and the Pacific.
When the overseas expansion began around 2008,
it was determined that adding one full-service firm
per country was more practical than adding boutique firms. This led to appending the words “and
Independent” onto “Boutique” in the moniker.
Charles M. Kagay
SPIEGEL LIAO &
Charles Kagay’s Beef With Most Legal Films
In 1996, Kagay and his wife, Teresa Serata, purchased a
San Francisco house built by the Mann family, who owned
the eponymous movie theater chain. The basement
contained a screening room large enough for 40 viewers,
complete with a large screen and projection booth.
After renovating it, Kagay, heretofore a casual
moviegoer, made it a personal project to watch each
film on The New York Times list of 1,000 best movies.
He’s waded through more than 700 to date, and notes
that few courtroom dramas made it onto the list.
“Among the few that are there,” he says, “some are
hard for an attorney to watch, because they are so
unrealistic, you are constantly distracted by the need
to jump up and object. Spencer Tracy seems to get
involved in a lot of these.
“It’s pretty much impossible for a courtroom drama to
be believable, since they have to cut out the boring parts
and radically streamline whatever’s left. Some films do
an interesting job of portraying some of what goes on
outside the courtroom, not all of it complimentary to the
profession.” Kagay’s list of films that do a good job of
showing what goes on outside the courtroom includes
Reversal of Fortune, A Civil Action, The Verdict, The Thin
Blue Line and, yes, My Cousin Vinny.