Both specialty services — litigation support and business management — cater to a similar clientele of high-net-worth individuals, providing ample opportunity for cross-selling, Wasserman said. Gursey | Schneider: Hitting on all cylinders in Los Angeles
As Gursey | Schneider marks 40 years in business this year, the Los Angeles-based firm can also celebrate its inaugural ranking on Accounting Today’s Top 100 Firm’s list, with its $44.88 million in annual revenue vaulting the firm to No. 96. Much of this is owed to the firm’s most successful niche service line, which managing partner Steve Wasserman calls its “claim to fame.”
The firm’s litigation support services practice was established by founding partner Donald Gursey when he formed the firm with Stanley Schneider in 1979. Gursey was a pioneer in family law forensic accounting and the practice, which accounts for 55 percent of the firm’s business, has flourished for the four decades since, with the firm recently opening new California offices to support its growth.
The firm also provides tax, accounting and a small amount of audit services, though Wasserman said the firm’s history of consultative services is a large factor in its growth, which has been primarily organic, though supported by a few acquisitions over the years.
“A major portion of our business is not in a commodity business such as audit,” Wasserman explained. “A lot of traditional firms have a higher percentage in audit services and tax compliance. We have very little on the audit side, [which] from a firm perspective, from an economics perspective, is a good thing. There is significant price pressures on the commodity side of our business, and less pressure on the consulting side.”
The firm’s consulting services also include business management, which was Schneider’s specialty when his practice merged with Gursey’s to form Gursey | Schneider. The business management service line is now led by partner Marie Ambrosino, an entertainment-industry business manager who joined the firm when her practice was acquired in 2005.
A portion of these wealthy individuals are celebrities and public figures, meaning the firm handles “very high-profile cases you read about in People magazine,” Wasserman explained. Cases range from divorce proceedings to the ex-spouse of a celebrity hiring the firm to provide business management services, he shared.
The firm’s expertise in this area makes it an especially attractive option for clients requiring financial help in family law matters. “We have lots of experience,” Wasserman said. “Probably no other firm in the country, on a combined basis, has as much experience as us. We have lots of knowledge — we don’t dabble in this area. We have 90 full-time people dedicated to this. We can assist attorneys, bring ideas and value add — it’s all
The tabloid-worthy clients compose a fraction of the roughly 300 to 500 family-law cases the firm handles in a year, and in every one, Gursey | Schneider relies on maintaining a strong referral network. “Typically all partners have relationships, working relationships, with various attorneys who have referred work to us,” he explained. “Tax and accounting, audit, annuity-based work, serves the same function year after year. On the family law side, it’s project-based work, one divorce, you do the work, you have to be hired on the next matter. At the end of the day, attorneys make recommendations to clients on who to hire as a forensic accountant. If we provide good service, they hire us next time. That’s always what we’re trying to do, because we know it’s the attorney’s decision on who to hire on the next matter.”
Under a family law attorney’s direction, Gursey | Schneider assists on the many tax and accounting issues that arise out of a divorce. These can include determining the cash flow available for support, doing business valuations, preparing a community property asset sheet, determining marital standard of living, tracing assets, and applying community property law.
The last issue is relevant to the firm’s operations in a community-property state, and in fact, “back in the early 1970s, Don Gursey was one of the first CPAs in California — when California became a community-property state — to provide forensic accounting for divorces,” Wasserman recalled.
Placing the right people
That legacy lives on, with continued success that recently expanded the firm from its Studio City headquarters to a total of six offices.
“We didn’t open a new office for the first 30 years,” Wasserman said. “We’ve expanded now, in San Diego, [a satellite office in] Torrance, Encino and San Francisco. The opening of the offices was not a plan, that we wanted to have offices in all big cities, but was driven by client demand. On the family law side, there are family law attorneys in San Diego, Irvine and San Francisco. It got to the point where it made business sense to have office locations to serve the businesses we already had.”
While those expansions — including a move of the firm’s Irvine office to a bigger space — have supported staff growth, identifying and recruiting those employees has been a challenge, Wasserman reported.
One effective solution was opening the Encino office, which caters to employees the firm recruited in California’s San Fernando Valley who were reluctant to commute “over the hill” to LA in the city’s notoriously bad traffic. Another solution was hiring an internal recruiter. Gursey | Schneider brought two others on board before finding the right fit with its current recruiter, who Wasserman said has been “very effective.”
Finding the right people is the first step of many, Wasserman acknowledged, in building a strong workforce.
“We try to hire talented people, and then train them, mentor them,” he said. “On the litigation side, what we do, and our competitors don’t do, is I’ll take professionals to court with me, even when I don’t bill time. I take them to settlement conferences, meetings — even if they’re not billing time, it helps them grow and develop. We could keep them in the office billing, making money on the short term, but we are trying to grow and develop the firm. We invest in giving them this experience, make them perform jobs better now, with the opportunity to grow into leaders in the firm.”
Further down the line, those leaders will have a mandatory retirement age of 70, which is just one way Gursey | Schneider is addressing another major challenge facing all accounting firms.
“I expect the firm to last — on my list is succession, you never complete succession planning,” Wasserman said. “Every year, the existing partner group is a year older. We have annual partner retreats in June, and we’re talking about succession, who is in the pipeline, when we’re ready to make a commitment, what we do to grow, and to get them ready. Overall, we’ve done a really good job of succession planning. Don Gursey retired 12 to 13 years ago, and we’ve grown; we didn’t miss a beat. Numerous partners have retired — Stan Schneider retired. We are growing and developing people to carry on the business, and grow the business.”
The firm’s significant service-line growth, office expansions, and strategic planning are all milestones in its continued upward trajectory, according to Wasserman: “In the past year, in all business lines, we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
STEVE WASSERMAN about service.”