Nicholas Cooper took a seat this year on the three-member executive committee at Whitfield & Eddy PLC. He is the youngest person elected to the committee, which is responsible for developing strategies and leading all initiatives of the 51-member firm, which has offices in Des Moines, Ankeny and Mount Pleasant. Cooper joined the firm in 2004, fresh out of Drake University Law School. He was chairman of the firm’s professional recruitment committee in 2013. He specializes in civil litigation, banking and licensing, and he developed the firm’s administrative and liquor licensing practice. He was elected to the executive committee along with Anjela Shutts and Mark Rice.

Why are you a lawyer?

My interest was a result of my undergraduate degree in finance. Took a pre-law class, excelled in that and was finding that in finance the lawyers were involved in everything. I decided that if lawyers are the ones making the decisions, that was where I wanted to be.

You specialize in civil litigation and banking. You must have been busy during the recession.

With the area of my practice, with a commercial emphasis, these have been difficult times. I have been very busy. I represent lenders on a daily basis, and over the last five years, it’s been working on troubled assets. I can confidently say we have turned the corner, and now we are making deals rather than ending deals, and that’s a lot more fun.

You went through a stretch where commercial deals evaporated.

It gave me an advantage. You see what challenges lenders face. You see what issues are being litigated, and I think that has helped me represent my lender clients, to see what they have faced and to assist them to avoid the same challenges.

Did the lenders learn anything, or did they have a lesson to learn?

I believe they learned some lessons. Due diligence on the front end is very important, and I’m seeing that due diligence, not that it didn’t occur before, has a stronger emphasis. … The commercial foreclosure stuff, compared to where we were, is as different as night and day. 
How much of your time was spent on foreclosures?

Today, it’s less than 20 percent, maybe less than 10 percent. Four years ago, it was 75 to 90 percent. Good or bad, there was just a ton of work. There are a lot of guys in the shop who do that type of work. We were very busy.

In the commercial sector, where is the most activity?

Development, refinancing. They’re still seeing some problems, but I’m seeing progress. With a lot of my clients, they are doing deals nationwide.

What do you do as a member of the executive committee?

The executive committee develops strategic decisions, leads initiatives for the firm. Major decisions are still decided by the membership. The executive committee oversees all staff recommendations, all charitable giving, all committees and all committee work. 

Why do you think you were elected to the committee?

I think the firm has a history of innovative thinking, and I think the members see that the young partners have a vested interest in seeing the success of the firm. Over the past year, I was in charge of what our firm calls the professional recruitment committee, and that is identifying and recruiting associate attorneys.

Are you hiring?

We are. It’s controlled growth. I think that we’re coming off of a very strong year. We just brought on two new lawyers. We have another attorney that is taking the bar exam, and she will be starting in March. Another attorney is completing her third year of law school, and she’ll start in the fall.

What are the challenges for the firm?

The firm is 86 years old. We have a strong business, employment, real estate, family law, litigation practice. I think we continue to focus on those areas the firm was founded upon, but look for new opportunities. I think the days of  the big corner office full of law books are gone. We’re shifting toward a paperless office. (Law libraries) look nice, but what is the message you are sending to new clients? Is the message that you are not changing with the times? I think those days are dwindling.