A High-Powered General Counsel That RIAs Can Actually Afford

Bressler, Amery & Ross works with clients of all sizes. Now, it’s trying to cater to more budgets.

Mark Knoll, Kerry Zinn (Courtesy photos)

Mark Knoll, Kerry Zinn

(Courtesy photos)

A law firm with prominent financial services practices is starting a new one specifically for RIAs, with a fee structure to better suit the growing number of small wealth managers.

Bressler, Amery & Ross announced Wednesday that it created an Investment Advisory Practice Group focused on investment advisors registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and state securities regulators.

The new group will have two co-chairs: Kerry Zinn, a principal in the law firm’s Fort Lauderdale office, and Mark Knoll, the managing principal of the New York City office. Six total attorneys will be part of the group to start.

Creating a practice for RIAs was a logical evolution at the law firm, Zinn told RIA Intel. Bressler, Amery & Ross already counts broker-dealers, RIAs, and dual-registered firms of all sizes as clients. But securities law is increasingly competitive, legal fees are under pressure, and having a designated practice will give the law firm greater visibility in a growing area of financial services, Zinn said.

Prior to joining Bressler, Amery & Ross in 2017, Zinn was the head of financial crime compliance in the U.S. for UBS, and a senior trial lawyer for the SEC.

The number of broker-dealers has steadily declined over the last decade while the number of RIA-only registrants has increased. RIAs manage an estimated total of more than $80 trillion in assets.

Regardless of their size, RIAs occasionally need legal advice. It just isn’t as accessible as it could be. Securities law, which includes law focused on regulation and compliance, is not a practice area that generalists dabble in, but “typically securities industry lawyers, they’re not the cheapest,” Zinn said. For small RIAs, with budgets to match, securities attorneys can feel even less affordable.

“What I find is there are a lot of RIAs that need legal counsel and they don’t know where to go to get legal counsel.”

To help smaller RIAs, with roughly 10 employees, the new practice group has introduced a “novel” fee schedule that has already attracted several clients, Zinn said. The group’s “general counsel service packages” — three tiers of retainers with discounts that scale when clients buy more hours — are a win-win for clients and the law firm. Clients get the more affordable advice they need and the law firm gets paid up front.

“For day-to-day stuff it just makes sense to do it for that segment,” Zinn said.

The general counsel package also helps clients make a decision about hiring the law firm for other services (the package does not include counsel on litigation or enforcement actions). Clients also can use the hours they buy to engage any of the other practices at Bressler, Amery & Ross, a full-service firm with over 150 lawyers.

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