On August 27, some of the 20 lawyers that comprise New Orleans-based Krebs, Farley & Pelleteri, PLLC, were convening in sunny Destin, Fla., discussing the newly opened Mississippi office and formulating ideas about moving forward as a specialty firm.
At the end of the Saturday morning presentation, managing partner David Krebs announced to the group that the Category Three storm swirling in the Gulf of Mexico had strengthened considerably and was drifting west toward The Big Easy.
“That’s when we began to get worried,” he said.
Brian Kennel, the firm’s strategy and policy consultant, made a mad dash home to pick up his teenage children and shepherd them to the Florida panhandle resort to ride out the storm. Kennel and Krebs spent Sunday afternoon outlining a strategy for the firm’s survival post-Katrina. They bought a $98 hard drive from Wal-Mart and began downloading files from the firm’s server so they would have an extra back up in case the Poydras Street office was destroyed.
“We didn’t have time to download everything, so we started with the client files and finished at about three o’clock in the morning,” recalled Krebs.
Krebs and Kennel alerted Dorsey R. Carson Jr. in Jackson, who had been a partner at the law firm for just three weeks and had recently set up Mississippi offices at One Jackson Place.
“They asked me to start looking for available apartments in Jackson,” said Carson.
As anticipated, Hurricane Katrina damaged the New Orleans office and damaged or destroyed the homes of several Krebs’ personnel, forcing them to live and work temporarily in Central Mississippi. The Jackson office opened for business on Tuesday following Labor Day; the New Orleans office reopened a week before Christmas.
“The fact that we hung together and all moved to Jackson, which for all of us was really strange territory, brought us greatly together and completely accelerated our comfort level doing business in Jackson,” said Krebs. “It knit us together very strongly with our Jackson lawyers and that’s something that normally takes place over years.”
Krebs said the experience validated his plan to expand the law firm into Mississippi.
“We’re a specialty firm, specializing in construction law and representing bonding companies,” explained Krebs. “Surety law is a very special law area. Companies are moving toward doing business with regional specialty firms rather than larger firms that know only a little bit about that area of law. A couple of firms had started sending us cases on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and, growing up in New Orleans, I was very familiar with Biloxi and Gulfport. I’ve always had a high comfort level there and I started looking at the growth along the Coast and it really got me interested in the business opportunities in south Mississippi. We took a harder look at the state as a whole and I was very optimistic about Mississippi, much more so than Louisiana. That’s why we decided to open an office in Jackson.”
Ironically, the setback expedited the five-year-old law firm’s growth plan. Before the storm, Krebs had begun representing Philadelphia-based Yates Construction Company in a Louisiana case. “That’s an opportunity we never would’ve had if we didn’t have an office in Mississippi,” said Krebs.
Krebs’ also represents creditors and insurance companies that issue crime policies to protect businesses from employee theft. “Believe it or not, we’re actually handling the Enron case,” said Krebs.
The law firm has five lawyers licensed to practice in Mississippi; three are staffed in the Jackson office.
“I’ve been exclusively practicing in the arena of construction litigation and government contracting since my days at a large specialty construction law firm in Atlanta,” said Carson, a native Jacksonian. “I returned to Jackson over four years ago to use that training and experience at home in Mississippi. In opening the Mississippi office of Krebs, Farley & Pelleteri, I was able to join a nationally recognized and respected team that is focused on helping clients in the area that I love. It is a win-win situation for our clients and for the firm.”
Ever since Krebs was picked out of the phone book by a local judge in 1986 to handle a child abuse case, he has staunchly supported pro bono work, especially cases involving children. In 2004, Krebs’ attorneys clocked 800 hours of pro bono work. Last year, the law firm picked up its second Louisiana State Bar Pro Bono Publico Award in two years.
“We’ll definitely carry forward pro bono projects in Mississippi,” said Krebs. “We’re very committed to that.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.