This article has been revised and corrected from the original version.
A new year spells a new era for one of L.A.’s prominent minority-owned law firms.
As of Jan. 1, downtown-based AlvaradoSmith became part of Frost Brown Todd, which was founded in Cincinnati and operates throughout the United States. The merger, of which terms were not disclosed, includes AlvaradoSmith’s offices in downtown, Santa Ana and San Francisco and the firm’s 23 attorneys, all of whom retained their partner status after the merger.
Raul Salinas, a founding member of AlvaradoSmith who is now the partner-in-charge of the downtown office, touted the merger as a meeting of intellectual peers.
“What we found was a true home of people who were very similar to us from a value proposition, whose practice areas really matched up with us,” he said. “At the same time, we could serve as a great platform to help them further build their depth and bring their expertise to California. Our view is that there’s great synergy between our two firms that will allow us to provide even greater service to our existing clients and to attract additional clients.”
While the change does absorb AlvaradoSmith into a more corporate environment, Salinas was adamant that the firm’s mission as a pioneering organization elevating minority attorneys and clients hasn’t changed. In fact, he argues it will be even more robust.
“This merger allows AlvaradoSmith to continue playing to our strengths, just at the scale of an AmLaw 200 firm,” he said, referring to the industry’s designation of the country’s 200 largest law firms. “Promoting opportunities for minorities and women is in our DNA and beyond the legal work is reflected in the volunteer board positions we have held and hold currently in nonprofit organizations. The loss of our paper certification as a minority firm will not change what we have been promoting for the last 30 years.”
The merger introduces Frost Brown Todd to the California market. The firm, founded in 1919, now boasts 545 attorneys in 17 offices across nine states and Washington, D.C. In California, it will operate as Frost Brown Todd AlvaradoSmith for the remainder of the year, and then as Frost Brown Todd starting in 2024.
Robert Sartin, Frost Brown Todd’s chairman, said a mutual friend introduced him to Salinas in September 2021, prompting the chats that ultimately resulted in the merger.
“It really came to the pizza and beer test. The more we got to know one another, the more we realized it was a good fit,” he said.
Since the firm’s founding, AlvaradoSmith’s attorneys have handled a wide variety of cases and have branched south of the border for clients — a detail that didn’t escape Frost Brown Todd’s notice.
“What we’re seeing is a tremendous amount of companies wanting to take advantage of their goodwill with Latin America by bringing it to the United States,” Salinas said. “For years, we’ve seen banks come in that are money transmitter banks …we’re even seeing MOUs (memoranda of understanding) being created between educational systems (across borders).”
Salinas said California is a vital market for burgeoning national law firms. On the flip side, the merger creates opportunities for AlvaradoSmith’s attorneys in other states and markets.
“Our clients have global needs,” Sartin explained. “To service those clients appropriately, we have to have more reach — physical brick and mortar in more markets and then build systems and processes. We are looking to truly become a national, coast-to-coast firm with the ability to have international offerings.”
AlvaradoSmith dates back to law school buddies who initially went separate ways after school. Eventually, Salinas said those friends concluded that they needed a space more dedicated to Hispanic attorneys such as themselves, along with their clients.
“Several of us went into a large law firm environment,” Salinas said, “and about seven or eight years after that I got a phone call from (founding partner) Ruben Smith, who said, ‘We’re putting the band back together.’”
In the 1980s, Salinas said opportunities to break into the field were slim for minority-owned firms. At first, it was a civil rights issue for those attorneys. As the industry environment improved, it pivoted to have a marketing angle. Salinas said that in today’s era it’s about fairness and inclusivity.
A commitment to those values helped bring both firms together, with Sartin saying that Frost Brown Todd has actively pursued firm development through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens for more than 15 years.
“We do it because diverse teams perform better. The data on that is compelling,” he said. “Our clients face volatile issues with uncertain answers and complex solutions that are often ambiguous. With that increasing complexity, no one individual is smart enough to address those issues. You need a team, and if you have a diverse team, you’re able to tackle it from a broader set of perspectives.”
Salinas said he agreed with Sartin’s assessment and said that when Frost Brown Todd leaders described their firm, it was “as if they were describing AlvaradoSmith.”
“Our merger allows us to continue our dedication toward diversification of the profession, but on a larger scale. Our merger discussions spent a significant amount of time focusing on where we had been in the past on DEI efforts and how we would continue on a path forward together,” Salinas said. “Further, as a diverse firm located in a diverse region, we have a deep understanding of the people in our market. We can better connect with Latino and other diverse business clients because we understand their unique issues — ones that other folks might not. We’ll share this experience and cultural understanding with Frost Brown Todd, enabling the firm to facilitate stronger interactions with current and prospective Latino clients nationwide.”