The legend is true: Plave Koch PLC was conceived at a Washington Capitals NHL game. Between periods. After a beer or two.
Early in 1989, Lee Plave and Dave Koch, both recent alumni of the FTC who knew each other’s names but not faces, found themselves in neighboring associate offices at a mid-size Washington, D.C. law firm specializing in franchising. John Tifford and Jim Rubinger were already there. As Lee and Dave learned the ins and outs of private law practice and the business of franchising, they became fast friends and mutual admirers.
Ten years later, Dave left the practice group just before the firm started on a merger binge that culminated in DLA Piper, the world’s largest law firm. The most difficult conversation about leaving was, of course, with Lee. Dave spent the next eight years at Wiley Rein & Fielding, where Jim also had landed. But throughout that period, Lee and Dave pondered ways to practice law together again. And both came to a troubling realization: that their franchise law practices were increasingly incompatible with the long-term goals of large law firms.
Most franchise clients are relatively small companies, and even the bigger companies do not necessarily generate the huge fees that large law firms crave. At their core, even the largest franchise companies depend on unit economics of small businesses – a mismatch with the premium rates charged by large law firms. The big firms made it especially difficult to take on work for those who needed it the most – new franchisors. Worse, Lee and Dave sensed that their franchise clients were treated like second-class citizens on the client list.
So one evening in Section 109, Row Q at the Verizon Center, out popped the thought of their own smaller firm. It was half in jest at first, but the more they thought about it, the more it made sense. And then came the moment of truth: April 2006, dinner with their spouses. If the idea wasn’t going to fly with Ilene and Ann, it wasn’t going to fly at all. Was it cowardly not to reveal it until the second bottle of wine? Cynics would say yes, but Lee and Dave insist the timing was coincidental. Or maybe good strategy.
In any case, the go-ahead received, planning began in earnest.
Other than the desire to have a “small firm,” Lee and Dave did not set out with a specific number of lawyers in mind. What they did set out with was a list of talented individuals they wanted on the ownership team.
Here, in a nutshell, is how Lee and Dave approached these individuals:
“We have three objectives for doing this: have more fun practicing law, have more balance in our lives, and still make a decent living. Those who join us must share our DNA (please visit our “DNA Map”). Nobody joins this firm for the money. If you want to earn the most money that you can, stay with the big firm. And be sure that you agree with our vision of how we want to operate (please visit “Our Approach”).”
The proudest accomplishment of the founders, bar none, is their success in attracting several smarter, better-looking lawyers to be their partners – and in return, offering them a different way to live and practice law.
John Tifford (now retired) came on board even before Plave Koch PLC opened its doors in February 2007. That spring, Michael Laidhold and senior paralegal extraordinaire Halima Madjid came over from DLA Piper. In late summer 2007, Regina Amolsch similarly switched from the largest law firm in the world to approximately the third smallest. At the beginning of 2008, Jim Rubinger, Marisa Faunce and Leslie Curran arrived from Wiley, Rein & Fielding, and J.H. Snow became of counsel to the firm. One year later, Ben Reed followed from Wiley Rein. In 2016, Leslie Pujo added her franchise and car rental practice to the firm.
Yes, we were accused of poaching, but as Dave explained to the managing partner at his former firm, “If you offer people less money, less prestige, and a smaller office, and they still want to do it, you can’t call it poaching.”
But we didn’t stop there. We’ve built out a top-notch paralegal and support staff to keep the lawyers out of trouble. We think we’ve assembled the best team in the franchise law business at our World Headquarters in Reston, Virginia.
There is no truth to the rumor that you have to love the Washington Capitals to work at Plave Koch PLC – but it does help.
Dave & Lee