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How a rural law firm benefits from big-city advice

Last year a young couple approached the country law firm of Salmon and Nostrand in Bellows Falls, Vt., in hopes that attorneys there might help them purchase Okemo Mountain, a ski resort in the southern part of the state.

At almost any other rural law firm, the idea of preparing a ''tender offer'' - the sophisticated and technical legal document needed to transact the sale - might have touched off minor panic. A tender offer is usually drawn up by specialists, such as those found in large Wall Street firms, not general practitioners in the Green Mountains. But at Salmon and Nostrand, the work was a mere technicality.

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Thomas Salmon simply called his partner law firms in Boston and Maine. Attorneys there - experts in securities law - prepared the document forthwith and the deal went through without a hitch.

Salmon and Nostrand's winning formula is a simple one: The firm belongs to the New England Law Partnership, a first-of-its-kind regional law partnership. Under an agreement worked out by the partners, the three independent law firms - one in Vermont, one in Boston, and one in Maine - continue to conduct their own businesses independently but share clients and expertise when the need arises.

''Ours is not a referral service,'' says George Nostrand, a partner in the firm of Salmon and Nostrand. ''We are a real partnership sharing both profits and losses.''

''Our clients' business often cuts across state lines, and every time we had to recommend a firm in Maine we were never sure of the quality of performance,'' says Robert Gerrard, a partner in the member firm of Bowker Elmes Perkins Mecsas & Gerrard in Boston. ''Now we've got a way to meet our clients' needs to their satisfaction and our own.''

The innovation is considered important by legal experts because it mirrors the trend toward interstate and national operations on the part of previously regulated industries. For example, deregulation has allowed more and more railroads and banks to expand beyond the states or regions where they previously were confined by law.

While no other regional law partnerships are thought to exist in the US at present, Mr. Nostrand believes a number of areas lend themselves to such an arrangement, especially on a bistate basis: Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., or Chicago, Ill., and Gary, Ind. A matching trend is the increasing number of larger law firms that have opened their own regional offices.

Lawyers say the growth of interstate legal services is due primarily to the relaxation of certain canons associated with the American Bar Association.

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The bar no longer frowns upon advertising to the degree it once did, a relaxation which has led to a more aggressive approach to marketing law. In addition, say lawyers, greater specialization in law and the growing complexity of government regulations forces them to turn to other firms for expertise.

Attorneys for the New England partnership rate their experiment a solid success in terms of income and the increased quality of their services. They say their services have expanded greatly because the three firms together have a larger pool of available experts from which to draw. The partners share profits and losses and have worked out a formula for equitable interfirm billing.

The income of the Boston firm rose 60 percent last year, according to Mr. Gerrard. He attributes much of that growth to the partnership. The income of the other two firms rose roughly 25 percent in 1982.

In addition to a payoff in terms of greater business opportunities, the lawyers say their own horizons have expanded as well.

''I'm involved in a number of good-sized projects because of the partnership that I wouldn't otherwise be associated with as a member of a country law firm, '' says Mr. Salmon, a former governor of Vermont.

The New England group is on the verge of expanding to New Hampshire and is searching for a compatible partner in Rhode Island.

With additional plans to contract with a Connecticut firm, the partnership would become become fully regional by 1985.

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