Firm aims to make legal services accessible and affordable for everyone.
This is not your traditional law firm, and Ari Kresch, founder of 1-800-LAW-FIRM, couldn’t be happier.
Kresch has been practicing law for 35 years. A native of Oak Park, he attended Yeshiva Beth Yehudah before going to the University of Detroit and the Detroit College of Law, where he earned his degree in 1978.
“From my first semester in law school, I fell in love with the law. I felt so empowered to be able to provide people access to the law.”
During his career, however, he discovered that the way traditional law firms are structured puts legal help out of the reach of many consumers.
Kresch thinks it’s high time that the “traditional” law firm goes the way of the dinosaur. He’s out to create something new and fresh; providing access to the law that is affordable and unintimidating.
“Statistics show that 78 percent of the population doesn’t hire a lawyer when they could benefit from one because they are intimidated by the prospect and the expense,” says Kresch. “They just don’t do it — and they lose out on the upside of legal representation.”
Kresch, who has been running 1-800-LAW-FIRM for the past 15 years, is out to make the law easy to access and afford, and he’s bringing that vision to life at the new Southfield headquarters building he opened last summer at the corner of Lahser and I-696.
A New Home
That corner, once occupied by a drab and dismal unoccupied building — an absolute eyesore — has been reborn thanks to Kresch, who has been married to wife, Lin, for 26 years. They have five daughters, ages 10 to 24, and live in Farmington Hills.
He undertook a major renovation of the property he purchased in 2010. “It was almost like building a new building, but more difficult because we had to deconstruct the old,” he says.
For example, the 1960s-era air conditioning unit had to be cut into pieces and hauled out by crane. All of the mechanicals in the building had to be replaced as well as the heating and the windows, which were replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass. The lobby was updated with a spectacular atrium for a more inviting feel.
“There are no hardwoods or dark woods. It’s a youthful space with open ceilings that has a subliminal feeling of health and well-being,” says Kresch, who belongs to the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills and lends his support to the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Yiddish Book Center, the annual Men’s Club Intercongregational Dinner, JARC, Yad Ezra, the Jewish Federation, AIPAC and Friends of the IDF, among others.
The architect of that “youthful feeling” is Israeli designer Arik Green, who runs his design business from Ferndale. “It was definitely a challenge,” he says, “to create the look of a non-traditional law firm and feed into that character.”
The look Green wanted was “slick, up-to-date and hospitable,” he says.
He succeeded. Guests to the firm enter a warm and welcoming wide-open lobby as they step off the elevators, where they can pour a coffee at the beverage bar. Five conference rooms of various sizes — some with sofas instead of conference tables for a more intimate feel — line the perimeter of the lobby.
“This is where we entertain our clients,” Kresch says. “But the really cool stuff is the office space where we celebrate our employees and have fun.”
The work space boasts an open lounge with industrial ceilings, a fitness room and a walking track nearly one-tenth of a mile long, where you can find employees taking laps and listening to music on their lunch breaks. On the interior of the suite, you’ll also find “phone booths,” cozy, soundproof private spaces where employees can relax, read or make personal calls.
The fun space attracts a youthful work force, says Kresch, who prefers to hire young attorneys.
“It’s a new world,” Kresch says. “We’re trying to get away from hourly billing. I believe hourly billing is an inherent conflict of interest. How is the client supposed to have any idea of how much it will cost? We like to quote percentages or flat fees. For example, we can incorporate a business for $49.”
Saving Clients Money
1-800-LAW-FIRM has several practice areas, many focused on consumer law, such as personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability. The firm, which has offices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, has successfully taken on big pharmaceutical companies, despite Michigan’s laws protecting them from liability.
Their newest practice area is centered on property tax appeals, which they will be rolling out nationally later this year. That practice area grew from Kresch’s own experience with purchasing the company’s headquarters, which he did for more than $1.3 million. That year he was taxed in excess of $183,000, even though the building stood gutted and empty. The high assessment was based on a fully finished structure.
Kresch was outraged and started the process toward lowering his taxes. An agreement was reached with the city of Southfield, and he recently received a check for more than $250,000 for tax reductions on the 2010, 2011 and 2012 tax years.
“Thousands of commercial and residential property owners are being over-assessed and it’s costing them millions of dollars,” he says.
Joshua Shillair is managing partner of 1-800-LAW-FIRM’s Property Tax Division, where all appeals are done in-house. He recently put on a seminar for 60 area brokers to educate them on the property tax appeal process for both residential and commercial properties.
“Assessments are too high and taxes higher than they should be,” Shillair says. “And it doesn’t look like it’s getting corrected.”
Appeals could net residential property owners anywhere from 10-15 percent annual tax savings in the Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield areas and up to 70 percent savings in the city of Detroit. Commercial property owners can realize about 20 percent in savings on their property taxes by appealing — more in Detroit, according to Shillair.
Bruce Liebowitz, owner of Post Guard, a manufacturing company in Metro Detroit, asked 1-800-LAW-FIRM to take a quick look at his home’s assessment. “It cost me nothing out of pocket,” he says. The appeal reduced his Farmington Hills property tax bill by $1,000. “I’ll save that money every year going forward,” he adds.
Ari Fischmann, an insurance broker as well as real estate investor, had 1-800-LAW-FIRM take a look at the portfolio he runs with other investors. “We’ve saved 25 percent so far. Some appeals are still pending,” says Fischmann, who also appealed the assessment of his Southfield home and saved $930. “The process was smooth and painless. I did virtually nothing but sign my name.”
Educating The Public
The property tax seminar for brokers was the first of many educational opportunities the firm plans to hold to educate the public on how to access the law for their benefit.
“It’s going to take some time for the masses to come to understand the way our legal services are delivered,” Kresch says.
Stuart Dorf, president of 1-800-LAW-FIRM, who’s been with the firm about a year, says he was attracted to Kresch’s vision of leveraging technology to give accessibility and affordability to anyone who has a legal need.
“Most firms want million-dollar clients,” he says. “We don’t. We want millions of clients because we can do more good that way.”
The firm has an in-house videographer who is creating educational materials, such as webinars and videos as well as a website where the public can go for practical legal documents, such as roommate agreements. A mobile app is also in the works, which will give consumers information on the law.
“We’re building a concept here,” says Kresch. “We want to be the Google of law.” By Jackie Headapohl, Managing Editor