69-Year-Old Law Firm is Recognized as a Small Business of the Year

Henry H. Hutchinson, third from right, Managing Director of Capell & Howard LLC, receives the Small Business of the Year Award at the BCA-CCAA annual meeting in Birmingham. From left are William J. Canary, president and CEO, Business Council of Alabama; 2016 BCA Chairman Tommy Lee, president and CEO Vulcan Inc. in Foley; Jeff Rabren, Regions Bank senior vice president, state government affairs & economic development; Hutchinson; 2016 Chamber of Commerce Association President Morri Yancey, president Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce; and CCAA President and CEO Jeremy Arthur.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Business Council of Alabama and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama named the Capell & Howard P.C. law firm in Montgomery and Opelika as a Small Business of the Year for 2016.

The award in the large business category of 51-100 employees was announced at the BCA-CCAA annual meeting on Dec. 2 in Birmingham. In addition to Capell & Howard, finalists for the award were American Health Corporation Inc. in Bessemer, Exchange Bank of Alabama in Gadsden, and Kassouf & Co. P.C. in Birmingham.

Capell & Howard president and Managing Director Henry H. Hutchinson accepted the award that was sponsored by Regions Bank.

“The Montgomery Chamber nominated us and, well, I’d say it was a pleasant surprise,” Hutchinson said in a recent interview. “I didn’t think a law firm would win it. Sometimes folks don’t think of a law firm as a business.”

Capell & Howard opened its doors Aug. 1, 1947, with founders Jack L. Capell and Fontaine Howard. Capell and Howard were ultimately joined by Edward E. Cobbs and Walter J. Knabe and the firm became known as Capell, Howard, Knabe & Cobbs in 1963. The firm kept that name until 1999, when it reverted to its original name.

“We’re located in the same building in which Mr. Capell first started practicing law,” Hutchinson said.

Back then and even when Hutchinson started practicing law in the mid-1970s, law firms generally included only lawyers and their secretaries, according to Hutchinson. Since its founding, Capell & Howard has increased in size, scope, and variety of staff.

Today it has 75 employees at its offices in downtown Montgomery and its offices in Opelika that were opened in 2002.

“We have about 40 lawyers and 35 support staff,” Hutchinson said. “We have administrative and accounting divisions and we have an I.T. department that is critical to how we practice law today. The technological changes made by law firms are consistent with the changes that have occurred in every other walk of life in the recent past.”

Technology has changed lawyering. In the “old days” lawyer briefs and lawsuits were all filed on paper in the court clerk’s office. Most are now filed electronically from desktops.

Today, take away “law firm” from the company’s masthead and you are left with a business.

“We have some of the same challenges that other businesses have,” Hutchinson said. “We must satisfy our clients just like other companies need to keep their customers happy. We must charge fairly and properly and provide good service and watch costs. Moreover, we need to hire, train, and retain good employees.

“In training our young lawyers we have a session on the business side of practicing law,” Hutchinson said. “Practicing law involves not just trying or arguing a case, but also delivering a variety of legal services as a team. Frankly that’s one of the things that has changed greatly over time.”

Hutchinson said law firms have the same business challenges and needs and a few particular needs such as the election of qualified judges, a goal that the BCA also supports. Hutchinson said important issues also include taxation that does not unduly restrict business and providing development incentives for attracting new businesses “so that Alabama is not at a competitive disadvantage.”

Capell & Howard handles commercial litigation, as well as business, corporate, construction, labor and employment, administrative, real estate, trusts and estates, family, tax, and employee benefit legal services in Alabama and the Southeast for both domestic and international clients.