In 1997, Mathis, along with Freeman and Bart Gary, were all young partners at the Atlanta litigation law firm of Drew Eckl & Farnham.
“I honestly didn’t plan to start my own firm,” Mathis said. “I thought I had a big-firm mentality, but the idea just sort of morphed. One day Ted said to me, ‘Either we do it now or we never do.’”
They had to proceed quietly as they put the pieces in place.
At the time, Mathis was participating in the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Honorary Commanders program and had befriended several key contacts who were happy to help. One colleague leased the trio 9,000 square feet of office space at the 100 Galleria Parkway Building in the Galleria office complex; another confidentially procured a $300,000 start-up loan from Riverside Bank (now Bank of North Georgia). Lastly, they convinced five other lawyers and three staff members to join the new firm.
“It was a lot of money,” recalled Mathis. “We laughed after the first week when we realized our office lease, our computers, the printers and everything right down to the postal machine, were all personally guaranteed.”
Sixteen years later, Six of the original eight lawyers are still with firm, Mathis said.
The three founding partners chose the Galleria location so they would no longer have to drive downtown, where many of the oldest law firms are located.
Today, the firm has 80 employees, including 50 lawyers and 12 partners, making it a middle-sized law firm. The Atlanta Business Chronicle has named the firm in its “top ten” law firms list for size and revenue growth for the last two years.
The firm experienced 24 percent growth in revenues from 2010 to 2011, and 9.5 percent growth so far in 2012. The firm now occupies 32,000 square feet on the 16th and 17th floors of the 100 Galleria building with views of Atlanta and Cobb County.
Mathis says it has been personally rewarding to be a part of Cobb’s growth.
“I’ve seen a number of our employees join us and eventually move from intown to Cobb,” he said. “A number of our younger lawyers are buying their first house in Cobb instead of downtown where they used to buy. I see the growth happening in a very personal way.”
Mathis said the recession has been beneficial for the firm.
“Business has accelerated with the recession because we are litigation-driven and it has been a contentious time for business disputes,” he said, though he added that the firm has remained affordable for clients during a time when large corporations have had to cut costs.
“Larger corporations have become more willing to reassess their relationships with firms because of costs,” Mathis said. “It has allowed mid-size firms to compete.”
The firm’s expertise is insurance, government, employment and construction law. Its clients include Coca-Cola Enterprises, AGCO Corporation and ApolloMD, CW Matthews Contracting Company, Traton Homes, Cobb County government, Cobb-Marietta Water Authority and the City of Marietta.
Mathis heads the firm’s labor and employment law section.
Bob Kiser, partner with the accounting firm of Moore Colson, who is the firm’s CPA, says Mathis’ internal investments have made the growth possible.
“Their growth is a testament to Ben’s entrepreneurial leadership style and vision,” he said. “He had the vision to invest in facilities, people and systems while most businesses downsized.”