A Firm With Giant Plans

A Firm With Giant Plans
Lawrence Hinkle II, front, Justin Sanders, left ,and Reggie Roberts Jr., right, in the conference room of their downtown office. (Photo by David Sprague)

Since forming in 2008, Sanders Roberts LLP has grown from just two attorneys to three dozen.

And now its founders, Justin Sanders and Reggie Roberts Jr., want to create the nation’s first Black-owned institutional law firm. To make that happen, the duo took the unusual step of hiring from the outside to find a new managing partner — Lawrence Hinkle II — to facilitate that nationwide growth.

“A lot of firms, especially smaller firms, tend to exist as long as the people running them want to practice law, and then they end. And then we know about other firms that are 100 years old and the founders are no longer with us,” Hinkle said. “I think that this firm can be like that, where the legacy of the firm will last for generations to come — long after Justin, Reggie, myself and the others here have retired from practice.”

Sanders and Roberts said they have watched Hinkle throughout his career and strongly feel he can execute their plans while they continue to do what they love — fostering a culture of successful trial lawyers.

“He has experience managing in other firm capacities,” Roberts said. “He’s helped other firms with office expansions and moving into other regions. Adding someone with his background and capability was important for us at this stage.”

Building the foundation

This is a dream many years in the making for Sanders and Roberts, who not only were classmates at Morehouse College, but also at the USC Gould School of Law.

After law school, the two clocked in a variety of time at other firms. At one point, they put their heads together and decided it was time to set off on their own.

“Essentially, we started the firm because we were looking for an opportunity to really focus our talents individually and collectively, and we felt that running our own law firm was the best platform for that,” Sanders said. “It started off with the two of us and we were handling all types of cases. Anything you could give us, we were chasing it. The crash (of 2009) occurred, and we had to deal with that, but we never lost confidence, never wavered, and always knew we could build something special.”

Sanders Roberts slowly grew through the years. By 2016, it had eight attorneys at its downtown office. There are nearly 40 now, including a handful at the firm’s San Diego office, which opened in 2021.

Roberts explained that they assembled the team they have by building a platform for “good people who are good at what they do.” This has helped foster the culture they wanted, and that culture has only been enhanced by the diversity of that team, they said.

“We think of ourselves as a legal think tank,” Roberts said, “so everyone here is bright in their own right, and we think that diversity of perspectives is the best way to help our clients with their variety of challenges.”

The right man

Sanders and Roberts are proud of the fact that they’ve grown their firm organically, without a merger.

And now is the time to start going national, they said.

“We have ambition to expand. We think that we have opportunities to do more good work in Northern California, in the Bay Area. We’ve planted the seeds for an Atlanta office in the near future. That’s within sight,” Sanders said. “We don’t want to put a timetable on it because some things need to happen, but those are the markets that most naturally fit our practices areas and our client bases.”

To make that happen, Sanders and Roberts targeted someone with expansion experience. They found that Hinkle, whom they’d come to know in professional circles, was the right man for the job.

Hinkle’s resume includes Fox Rothschild LLP, where he chaired the entertainment litigation practice. Before that, he was hired by Blank Rome LLP to launch its L.A. office. His clients have included NBCUniversal, Warner Music Group, Fox Television and Viacom.

Most recently, Hinkle was chief operating officer and general counsel for Burbank-based Urbanflix TV.

“We’ve been familiar with his work and admired his work from afar. We’ve been friends for years and that’s how it came to be,” Sanders said. “He reached out and indicated that he’d been following some of the moves that our firm had bene making and had some thoughts on how he could contribute to that effort. We met, listened, and thought all of his ideas were great.”

The admiration, evidently, was mutual.

“I got to see them from afar and see what they were doing, even before they started this firm. You always know who you’ve got a bit of respect for and over time you start seeing more and more how their reputation is in the legal community,” Hinkle said. “I knew them as attorneys who were really good at what they do. Not just nice guys, but they seemed to be doing really well with trials and clients, and you have to respect that.”

Hinkle noted the Blank Rome project as being the most obvious well of experience to draw from in this new role. It was the firm’s first location west of the Mississippi River, Hinkle recalled.

“It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not easy to grow,” he continued. “I’m certainly taking all of that here and trying to be wise about how we approach things.”

Now could be an especially ripe time for a firm like Sanders Roberts to take these steps — and try to become an institutional brand —according to Christine Chambers Goodman, a professor at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law.

In today’s climate, there is an urgency to elevate Black voices and patronize Black-owned businesses. Many institutions, including law firms, have publicly adopted initiatives and pledges to do so.

“It’s something there is a definite hunger for,” she said. “That will be attractive to corporate lawyers or general counsels looking to hire an outside firm. That will be a great marketing tool for this firm, that you get this firm and you know the majority of the lawyers will be diverse.”

Reflecting communities

Sanders pointed out that the firm’s approach to diversity goes well beyond its credential as a Black-owned operation. There are eight languages spoken amongst its attorneys, he said, and as with Los Angeles and San Diego, he envisions assembling a group in each new location that reflects the demographic makeup of its community.

“We don’t necessarily envision that we are an entirely Black-owned law firm,” Sanders added. “What we are trying to show is that a firm like ours that is currently Black-owned and led by a significant number of African American lawyers can be the best law firm, can win the biggest trials, can get the biggest clients and can compete with every other law firm in the country. That’s really where we position ourselves.”

Hinkle said he appreciated Sanders’ and Roberts’ visions for their firm and that they have a lot to be proud of for how they’ve built it since 2008.

“It’s diverse not only in terms of the typical racial or ethnic makeup, but we have people who speak many types of languages and I really just think that’s important,” he said. “It’s important for us to be that way because that’s what our client needs, in terms of diverse points of view and abilities. We’re going to be a better firm the more diverse we are.”

Goodman said that as the firm expands its new offices could prove “super appealing” for Black and other diverse students coming out of law school. She also noted that Sanders and Roberts have a direct pipeline to schools like Morehouse — a historically Black college in Atlanta — that could prove useful in the expansion.

It will also help, she said, to target established lawyers who are heavily involved in their communities.

“They may already have a good group of potential contacts and clients, people who might refer business to their firm,” Goodman said. “A lot of it will depend on the level of community engagement that the lawyers who open the office are already engaged in.”

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