Joining the Family Firm

Benckendorf & Benckendorf, P.C.
by Amy Chovan

What began as one man’s private law practice has become a family business now in its second generation.

After practicing law both as a solo practitioner and as part of a larger firm, Glenn Benckendorf decided to start his own law firm in 1981. When his sons, David and James, became lawyers in their own right, they joined their father’s firm, and the family practiced law together until Glenn retired earlier this year after 55 years as an attorney.

Because Glenn was known for putting his clients first, his business grew considerably, and several additional lawyers have been hired since he started the firm. David’s daughter, Rynell, was one of them—she became a licensed attorney and practiced with the family firm for two and half years, before leaving to move out west. Five attorneys currently work at Benckendorf & Benckendorf, P.C., along with a support staff of eight, all of whom are treated like members of the family. “We have a number of staff who have stayed with us for many years,” said James, “because they are working for a family business.”

As founder of the firm, Glenn set its tone—one of focusing on the clients instead of the business end of things. “Dad had a great reputation for integrity and for a practical approach to issues,” said David, noting one of the reasons he chose to join his father’s firm. “He wanted to figure out how to solve a problem and that always presented an interesting intellectual challenge.”

James said he joined the firm because he had great respect for his father and older brother and the way they handled their business. “It was making sure the client was taken care of, doing it in the most friendly way, and trying to be helpful,” said James. “It’s a matter of trying to look for the resolution in a situation—not trying to be adversarial. I respected that very much in [my dad] and thus, I try to carry that same aspect through my practice with the firm.” It’s with that philosophy that the Benckendorfs run the firm today.

Benckendorf & Benckendorf, P.C. offers a broad range of legal services, from business law and family/domestic law to real estate law, litigation and estate planning, and each of the firm’s attorneys has his or her areas of specialty. David’s is litigation, which comprises about 60 percent of his practice, while James focuses on real property and trusts and estates. While each attorney specializes in certain areas of law, they collaborate as necessary to make sure clients receive the best possible service.

Family Relationships Evolve
Upon joining the family firm, David explained, familial relationships remained intact. “You start out being Dad, being the big brother…all these relationships by definition and by history, and that changes over time into a more collaborative relationship—into a relationship that allows you to disagree in a positive way, where you work out a problem.”

Coming in as the younger brother, noted James, he first had to figure out where he fit into the firm, “and then we were able to go on and learn what each other’s strengths were. That’s allowed us to really develop and enhance the firm.”

Since the firm’s inception, not only has the family expanded its legal business, it purchased and grew a title company as well. Because of its large volume of real estate work, Benckendorf & Benckendorf, P.C. began writing title insurance under the name Benckendorf & Benckendorf Title in 1993, which was then part of the law firm. They also worked closely with American Abstract and Title, and when that company was put up for sale in 2002, it was a natural evolution for Benckendorf & Benckendorf to purchase the business and merge it with their own title company. Adopting the name Hometown Title Company, the Benckendorfs’ title business now has offices in Pekin, Morton and Eureka, and will soon have a branch in Peoria. James oversees the attorney in charge of the title company, and David acts as a sounding board when issues arise.

“That’s when it works well between our [different] management styles for the title company,” James explained. He may have an idea, while David will take a different view; together, they’ll come to the best way to handle the situation. “Oftentimes [David] has a better way of approaching it as far as a business decision, and that’s why our family relationship works out very well…It’s what’s best for the company and the clients and the staff,” said James.

Working together has proven to be very rewarding for the Benckendorfs, who emphasized that allowing their familial relationships to evolve over the years has helped them grow their business. For the firm to succeed, said David, “everyone has to be willing to allow those relationships to mature.” A lack of willingness, he points out, will not only create an undesirable work environment, but problems with succession planning as well.

“You have to like your family to be in business with them,” said James, “and you have to respect them.” That philosophy has helped to keep this family business thriving for nearly three decades. iBi

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