A Digital Roundtable: INBLF Boutique & Independent Law Firm Leaders Arnie Lutzker & Nancie Marzulla with Larry Ebner

By Lawrence S. EbnerMarch 24, 2020

After departing Big Law and launching my own appellate litigation boutique, Capital Appellate Advocacy PLLC, I joined the International Network of Boutique and Independent Law Firms (“INBLF”). INBLF is a unique network of highly experienced boutique law firms—small firms that focus on one or two discrete areas of practice—spread across the United States and Canada. The INBLF network also partners with leading, independent, multi-discipline law firms throughout the world.

I soon discovered that INBLF is more than a referral network well positioned to compete against domestic and global giants: Just like large law firms, INBLF offers its members many professional and personal opportunities to interact and synergize—but with none of the management-imposed financial performance pressures or internal competition or politics that burden the vast majority of Big Law attorneys.

There is great news about two of my INBLF friends and colleagues: Arnie Lutzker of Lutzker & Lutzker LLP recently was elected INBLF President & Chair of the Board of Directors. And Nancie Marzulla of Marzulla Law, LLC has succeeded Arnie as President of INBLF’s Washington, D.C. chapter. I thought that this would be a great time to engage Arnie and Nancie in a digital roundtable discussion about what they see as the role of boutique and independent law firms—and INBLF—in the legal profession.

Larry Ebner: I want to begin by asking each of you to describe your practice areas.

Arnie Lutzker: I describe my legal career in two specialty phases.  For about a dozen years, my prime specialty was communications and media law.  I worked extensively with television and radio stations, cable systems, and newspaper, magazine and book publishers.  Over my first decade, I took that background and focused clients on the creation and protection of content, mainly utilizing the evolving laws of copyright and trademark.  With time, I was fully occupied doing that, creating a new practice area for my first firm—Intellectual Property Law—and continuing with IP to this day.

My IP practice has had three key parts: counselling, lobbying and litigation.  Counseling involves the contractual and regulatory work to identify and protect IP as a business or personal asset. This led to lots of filings with the Copyright and Trademark Offices and dealing with all manner of agreements associated with acquiring, licensing and transferring IP rights.  Being in Washington, D.C. and loving public policy issues, I also focused on lobbying, becoming involved in several major legislative projects.  I have had the pleasure to work with world famous movie directors, who supported adoption of the Berne Convention, the National Film Preservation Act and creation of the National Film Registry.  Representing library associations and educators, I was a chief negotiator in connection with passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Teach Act.  Throughout this work, I also focused on litigation and have handled many copyright and trademark infringement cases for both plaintiffs and defendants.  One of my most enduring areas of practice has involved the arcane but challenging area of copyright compulsory licensing, principally involving the retransmission of television programming by cable and satellite industries. Over the past four decades, I have worked on the fair distribution of more than $20 billion in collected fees.

It was more than 20 years ago that my wife Susan Lutzker and I decided we were going to take an incredibly crazy step—with kids in college and no end of bills in sight, we were going to quit our jobs and start our own law firm.  Little did we realize how challenging, nerve wrecking, evolving, rewarding, and life fulfilling this decision would be. Our kids (the ones in college) thought this would doom our marriage—“You’re going to live AND work together?? You’re nuts!”  But 22 years later, the marriage and the firm continue.  Such are the joys and challenges in the world of boutique law.  And one things about the INBLF network’s boutique firms—our law firm not unique.  There are many husband-wife teams, who also have survived our children’s hyper-warning.      

Nancie Marzulla: Our Washington, D.C.-based firm, Marzulla Law, LLC, which my husband Roger Marzulla and I founded, is ranked as one of the nation’s “Best Law Firms,” and a “Tier One” environmental litigation firm, by U.S. News and World Report. The firm’s litigation practice concentrates on water rights, takings, and contract claims in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Roger and I have extensive experience in handling matters involving property, water, environmental law, Indian tribal claims, development, and natural resources in trial courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Marzulla Law attorneys also represent clients in enforcement or permitting disputes with federal regulatory agencies.

Larry Ebner: Arnie, congratulations on your new leadership position in INBLF. What attracted you to INBLF in the first place, and how have you seen the network change over the years?

Arnie Lutzker: Larry, thanks for your good wishes.  I was initially attracted to INBLF for several reasons.  As Susan and I were starting our firm, we looked to others for guidance.  Key among them was one of my very best friends in law school, Marc Durant.  For many years, Marc and his wife Rita, had their own firm.  It was Marc who first told me about INBLF.  I decided to meet with DC Chapter President, Larry Koltun, to discuss INBLF and felt it was just right for us.  INBLF offered the kind of support for us and our clients in areas we knew from the get-go we needed help—corporate, tax, employment, trade, among others.  We also knew that we could get help from other chapters throughout the US.  And since my practice was always national, and international as well, a law network would complement my local, school and association connections.  Having grown up in two large law firms, I knew the importance of having trusted colleagues to turn to at a moment’s notice.  For us, it there was no second thought—we had to join.  And we’ve never looked back.

Of course, INBLF has changed, and continues to change.  Members come and go, as solo practitioners retire or firms merge.  The growth internationally has been especially important for Susan and me.  We have referred and received referrals from colleagues around the world.  Our travels have enabled us to meet personally and become friends with so many INBLF members.  Through INBLF we were able to co-manage a very complex copyright infringement case in Australia with Glenn Ferguson’s firm. Within two days of a client’s website being hacked, we had local counsel in Queensland helping to address the problem.  Even with my normal connections, I don’t think we could have accessed that level of support and expertise so quickly.  Thank you INBLF!

Larry Ebner: Nancie, congratulations on becoming the President of the INBLF chapter here in Washington, D.C., home to thousands of lawyers who work at multi-practice, multi-office law firms. Do you think there is anything that boutique firms can offer clients different from or even better than large firms?

Nancie Marzulla: The genius of INBLF is that here in the United States, it harnesses the legal acumen and experience of practitioners at the top of their game, and who have created their own, boutique law firms focused on the single area of law they know best.  Our DC Chapter is very pleased, for example, that you and your law firm, Larry, focus on  appellate litigation.

Through INBLF, a client can find just-the-right lawyers who can handle the most sophisticated or challenging problems a client may face. But unlike lawyers in large firms, who can only offer partners who may have only a passing acquaintance with a sophisticated legal issue, INBLF offers clients an array of lawyers in  boutique and international firms who specialize in the particular  area of law practice required to address the client’s specific problem.

And INBLF chapters offer boutique law firm lawyers a chance to share information about law firm management issues that all law firms must address, regardless of their size.

Larry Ebner: I have the same question for you, Arnie. What do you see as the role of boutique law firms in a legal world that appears to be rapidly consolidating and becoming global?

Arnie Lutzker: Larry, while the legal business has been consolidating, perhaps the single most important benefit that boutique firms can offer is the personal service that facilitates trust.  Sure, large firms have many specialties and resources.  However, clients find that the big firms delegate down, while adding redundant charges for supervision.  With boutiques, clients can get the lawyer they want when they need her or him.  Efficiency and expertise, that’s the hallmark of the boutique firm.  And with our network, every member has a footprint for services through the US, Canada and the world.   

Larry Ebner: Along the same lines, Arnie, what are you plans for INBLF growth?  Are there specific legal markets in the U.S. and Canada, or specific practice areas, that you see as opportunities for INBLF expansion?

Arnie Lutzker: Well, in the past two months, the world has changed and INBLF will need to change with it.  When I started as President of the network in January, I indicated my goal is to double the size of the network in the next four years, by reaching new U.S./Canadian markets, and expanding membership where we have chapters.  I’d like to see every chapter with a minimum of 10 members.  The largest can have more, but we need to identify the amount that takes a viable chapter to a successful one, and I think 10 is a good target.

However, with the Coronavirus driving us from our offices to our homes and curtailing travel domestically and internationally, my plans have been interrupted.  And with that, we have lost the opportunity to explain INBLF personally to potential new members at various conventions where we have sponsored receptions and successfully expanded membership.  This means we’ll have to raise the INBLF online profile significantly.  I have been talking with Bill Berenson, whose firm crafted our current website, to figure out ways we can better exploit the website as a key INBLF asset.  Since we are using but a fraction of the potential built into the site, I know that this will be an important way to increase member-to-member support and referrals, and to grow the network this year, and in the future.

During the coming months, I also hope to work with chapter presidents to identify new potential members in local communities and reach out by phone and video conferencing to strike up the conversation, as long as virus prevents our face-to-face meetings.  I also hope that chapter presidents will use their online resources to maintain regular contact among members.  Now, more than ever, the need for the INBLF community to support each other.

Larry Ebner: What about the international component of INBLF?  Where do you see that going, and how can INBLF members in the U.S. best interact with the members abroad?

Arnie Lutzker: Our international membership continues to evolve.  We have had a number of important partners in Europe and Asia advise me this year they are leaving the network because they have not seen business referrals over the past number of years.  Referrals remain a central part of the INBLF service, and are probably the single most tangible proof of value of membership.  While we cannot make up business, more members need to think how the network can serve clients abroad and to follow through with contacts to INBLF members. Similarly, the breadth of  practice areas and talent of our domestic network remains a crucial asset available to our international members.

Because our international meetings will be curtailed for a significant part of 2020 due to the virus, we need to be attentive to INBFL membership as an asset of our practices.  I intend to work with Bill Berenson to expand the content offerings on the website, seeking blogs, memos, position papers, PowerPoints, and idea dialogues that can inspire work and assistance for members.  We will be focusing on SEO, member website links and the great expertise of the network’s lawyers.

Larry Ebner: Nancie, how do you see the Washington, D.C. chapter evolving over the next few years?

Nancie Marzulla: My goal as the Washington, D.C. Chapter President is to build on what Arnie, our former Chapter President began, which is to establish our Chapter as the Washington, D.C. “office” for all INBLF members in the U.S. and abroad. Since we are located in the nation’s capital, and so many of our members have strong backgrounds in federal agency and government experiences, our chapter is uniquely situated to assist other INBLF members with issues involving  federal regulatory agencies (including rulemaking and administrative decision making), the Supreme Court or another federal court in D.C., or federal legislation pending in Congress.

I am also committed to developing relationships with other segments of the Washington legal community, including legal publications, legal organizations such as D.C. bar groups, and various client organizations, including trade associations. There are so many opportunities here in Washington, and so many groups we can potentially work with. I think that it is an achievable goal for INBLF to become a prominent member of the Washington legal community.

Larry Ebner: I have another question for you, Arnie. Given the diversity of the INBLF network’s practice areas, what are your thoughts about increasing its visibility?

Arnie Lutzker: As I have mentioned above, my plans for 2020 have shifted.  With fewer international and domestic events and travel, we need to beef up the website, its assets and use, and its visibility first and foremost within the network members, and secondly to the general public.

Historically, we have identified from one to three members of a domestic INBLF member firm for visibility on the website.  I would like to see that grow significantly, so that more lawyers in our firms are active and visible online.  Same goes for our international members, which have tended to be restricted in numbers.  If we can show who we are more accurately, and provide more expansive insight into the INBLF membership, that could increase the opportunity for referrals and business for all members.

One other thought: I have raised with the INBLF Board of Directors adding a new category of membership—affiliates.  I’m thinking of accountants, court reporters, economists, survey professionals, and experts.  People that lawyers rely on and whom lawyers turn to.  We can offer them access, especially in local chapters to top professionals in need of their services. I hope this idea will turn into reality this year.

Larry Ebner: Here is a question for both of you:  INBLF also offers its members local, regional, and international professional, social, and cultural opportunities. How do you see those activities benefitting the network and its members?

Nancie Marzulla: First, we network through the DC Chapter’s regularly scheduled lunch meetings, which Roger and I host at our offices, and also through occasional social or cultural event.

Also, what sets INBLF apart are the many opportunities for our members to network with lawyers in firms located across the U.S. and all over the world. Each year there are meetings, substantive fly-ins, and social, black-tie dinners in interesting venues throughout the United States, Europe, or Asia. These events provide a unique opportunity to develop real relationships with our member-colleagues in other cities or countries, and to develop a wide network for business development opportunities. INBLF also offers its members a way of participating in a broad-based, legal community that would not exist but for INBLF.

Arnie Lutzker: One of the quintessential elements of INBLF membership is the opportunity for and participation in events, like regular chapter meetings, fly-ins, receptions, international Summits and BlackTie Weekends.  Every one of these translates INBLF from the abstract to the personal.  For me, these activities are the springboard for fostering friendship and trust.  Business referrals require that element of trust and support, and in my view, INBLF’s social activities are a key to its success and satisfaction for its members.

Larry Ebner: Finally, how can boutique law firms—including independent professionals like me—contact INBLF to learn more about the network and how to become part of it?

Arnie Lutzker: To start, the website www.inblf.com has a wealth of information about us and how to reach out to be considered.  Any new member must be vetted and approved, as we intend to maintain the high standards for membership.

Additionally, I want to encourage our own members to be a prime point of contact.  We all know lawyers, locally, throughout the U.S. and Canada and internationally.  We should each be reaching out to our friends and colleagues, maybe even those we have matched wits against, whom we think would benefit from being part of INBLF.  Pass the information onto me.  With the help of President Emeritus Charly Kagay, he and I “vet” the new members and welcome the best into the fold.