With historic legacy and modern impact, law firms make economic mark

There isn’t an eye-catching sign to be found on the exterior of Darin Harmon’s law office, Kintzinger Law Firm, PLC. The unassuming brick building doesn’t draw attention to itself, nor does it sit at the center of Dubuque.

But Harmon holds immense pride in the firm’s history, its founding dating to 1897.

Kintzinger Law Firm is one of several law offices that contribute to a deep-rooted legacy in the area.

“A number of us have been around for over 100 years,” Harmon said. “We have been longstanding pillars in the community.”

While Dubuque’s local law offices provide historic pedigree to Dubuque’s downtown, the lawyers who inhabit them contend that they also offer much more.

From direct economic benefits to broader community impact, local lawyers argue that the many Dubuque law firms are a major backbone of the local economy.

“Law is one of those curious areas where we are needed when the economy is doing well and we are needed when the economy is doing not so well,” said Paul Sigwarth, partner at O’Connor and Thomas Law Firm, P.C. “We like to think we are partnering with our client to grow the economy and local businesses.”

Even before considering the ancillary economic benefits of local law offices, many firms directly contribute to the community’s job creation, both hiring native residents and bringing in employees from out of town.

O’Connor and Thomas employs 33 people, 14 of whom are attorneys.

Kintzinger Law Firm has hired three new employees in the last two years.

Molly Grover, president and CEO of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said that, while individual law offices generally maintain a relatively small workforce, the totality of the firms in Dubuque creates a significant employment base for numerous white collar workers.

“The legal industry is important to our business community,” Grover said. “They are creating jobs and have payroll that is spent in the community.”

Mark Willging, with Fuerste, Carew, Juergens & Sudmeier, P.C., said the presence of the city’s local law offices also provides businesses and individuals with law services that they otherwise would have to seek outside the city.

Many law firms in the city offer a variety of services, ranging from corporate and transaction law to family law.

“We try to serve the needs of both individuals and businesses,” Willging said. “It’s a service that we are proud to do.”

While law offices can specialize in niche branches of law, Harmon said many in Dubuque often work as general law offices, providing a diversity of different law services.

“That’s typically what you will see in a town like Dubuque,” Harmon said. “It’s not as easy for firms that specialize in one thing to survive here.”

Harmon also noted that many employees at local law firms have significant community engagement, serving on boards for nonprofits and civic groups.

Harmon serves on the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

“Our firm has always felt that it is important to show community involvement,” Harmon said. “There have been a number of lawyers who have been mayors, civic leaders, chamber of commerce chairs. A lot of lawyers use their off-time to help in the community.”

Sigwarth said that, while the presence of law firms in a community might seem obvious, he contended that many smaller, rural communities often don’t possess a single law firm, requiring rural residents to look out of town for legal services.

In his mind, Sigwarth said, the wealth of lawyers in the community is a rich resource that residents and business can continue to use for years to come.

“There is a desert out there for legal help in rural areas,” Sigwarth said. “The number of good attorneys that we have is an asset in the community.”