As managing director of the Columbia-based law firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapoport & Skalny (DARS), Paul Skalny’s practice is primarily devoted to representing entrepreneurs and investors, and serving as general counsel to businesses, financial institutions and nonprofits.
Those clients keen in on Skalny’s advice on matters including contract negotiations, commercial transactions, private stock offerings, employment matters, protection of intellectual property and disputes among business owners. He focuses on helping businesses, including family-owned companies, address issues associated with business succession, as well as mergers and acquisitions; he also works with land owners, developers and builders, and he oversees the firm’s affiliate real estate title company, Crossroads Title Group.
Skalny’s interests also encompass his native local community, where he has served numerous business associations and nonprofits, particularly in the areas of business advocacy, economic development, technology, leadership development and health care.
On that note, he’s vice chair of the board of trustees of Howard County General Hospital (HCGH), as well as that of Johns Hopkins Medicine; and is a director of the Howard Technology Council’s Advisory Board and of the Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG). He also serves as a judge for simulated congressional hearings at local elementary schools.
When did you decide you wanted to be an attorney?
Well, I really still haven’t, but now I‘ve been at it for 25-plus years. Seriously, I started out studying biomedical engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. I stuck with it for a couple of years, but realized that it wasn’t for me.
I switched my major to economics and starting taking some classes in business and in law, and quickly realized that that was where I belonged. Even better, that earlier technical training has given me the ability to approach client matters with a more analytic approach.
What trends are becoming more pronounced in the legal industry?
Baby boomer business owners continue to march forward toward retirement — and a diminished role in their professions. With this inevitability comes questions like, “How do I get my investment out of my business?”
“Do I sell to a third party, a key employee or an involved family member?” and “Have I created a business that can be sustained without me?”
While helping clients with these types of issues has been at the core of the services DARS has provided, we’re seeing a significantly increasing demand for counsel in these often complex issues. Many practitioners are jumping on this bandwagon and are selling exit strategy planning as a commodity.
We approach the issues strategically, and encourage business owners to consider their succession plan and eventual exit as a journey that begins years in advance of their actual retirement. In fact, much of what we do for clients as general counsel is all geared toward maximizing the value of the business and in giving owners the greatest number of options to consider when they decide to transition the business to a third party. This line of work is incredibly rewarding, as we help business owners create a legacy for their businesses, while affording them the opportunity to reap the benefits of their hard work.
The other trend is in the area of online legal resources and the automation of the delivery of services. This attempt to commoditize the legal industry, in my view, really misses the value that good attorneys bring to the table.
What kind of growth are you anticipating at DARS during the next five years?
We have seen sustained growth since our inception nearly 15 years ago by pursuing a vision of providing the region with high quality legal services, without potential clients having to seek the assistance of counsel in neighboring metropolitan areas.
We expect continued modest growth in the number of attorneys we employ, but we do not see a significant diversification of the kinds of services we provide. Our core service areas will remain unchanged; with that said, we are always looking for strategic hires and acquisitions, and will continue to do so to ensure that we have the right people to meet the needs of our diverse client base.
What are your thoughts on the progress of development in Columbia Town Center?
After years of community discussions, debate and planning, we’re finally starting to see the fruits of those efforts. The buildings and new streets at the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway have completely changed the landscape of that busy intersection; and Little Patuxent Square, built by Dave Costello and Kingdon Gould, is magnificent.
With the continued construction and improvements to new buildings and community amenities, the piece that is still missing is the energy that comes from a critical mass of people riding their bikes, listening to music, sitting outside having cocktails, window shopping or just walking around. While we’re not quite there yet, I’m confident that we are heading in the right direction.
What would you like to see MBRG focus on in the next legislative session?
A positive business climate is a positive jobs climate; but if you increase the costs of hiring, you decrease employment. This is a straightforward truth that many legislators either don’t understand or simply choose to ignore for political expediency.
We finally have a governor in Larry Hogan who understands this basic economic principle and has taken steps toward mitigating our national reputation as a bad state in which to do business. But we still have work to do and he needs help from the Legislative Branch — and so far, they’re only fighting him.
Frankly, the legislators won’t listen to MBRG or any other business group; they will only listen to the voters. So, MBRG will continue to publicize legislators’ votes on bills that affect the business climate and employment. We’ll continue to educate voters on how these issues affect their jobs, and we’ll continue to work with the other business groups in the state that recognize that partisan bickering is not solving any problems.
Finally, we look forward to continuing debate and resolution of the massive problem of gerrymandering and its stifling effects on honest, robust debate in our General Assembly. With so many legislators choosing their voters, rather than the other way around, they have completely safe seats and literally do not need to debate, consider and truly understand opposing views.
They can safely vote in blocks without consequence. Whether these are safe seats by the Democrats or Republicans is irrelevant; a safe seat is a disenfranchising seat, and MBRG looks forward to the end of this most undemocratic of practices.
You were recently named chairman of the board of trustees at HCGH. What are your thoughts on the recent progress at the hospital?
Under the leadership of Steve Snelgrove and his team, HCGH has started in recent years to experience significant changes in its infrastructure and in the way it operates. The hospital has become far more integrated into the John Hopkins system, allowing it to operate more efficiently, to provide access to some of the best specialists in the world, and affording it the ability to provide evidence-based quality care for our community.
The hospital also has all but completed some minor renovations to the Emergency Department (ED), providing for some relief to the busiest ED in the state. Later this fall, the hospital will break ground on a major renovation and addition, which will provide for additional capacity in the observation unit, thereby hopefully helping push patients through the ED more quickly.
The addition will also house a new inpatient psychiatry unit, something which is much needed in our community. Currently, many of these psychiatry patients end up in the ED because of a lack of space elsewhere at the hospital.
What would you like to see happen at HCGH in the next 5–10 years?
Much of what I would like to see is already underway. We are in the latter stages of a master facilities plan and the addition of needed clinical programs; we’re also looking at what services should be provided on the main hospital campus and which ones should be provided in other areas around the county. We envision a greener campus, one where we move beyond providing what we call episodic care and will heighten the focus on improving the overall health of the population.
The refocus will be costly and will require a significant financial commitment. The hospital is committed to paying for a portion through its investments and by taking on debt; however, that won’t be enough. Giving our community the hospital it deserves will require raising money through philanthropy and significant support from county and state governments. The other fairly new initiative at the hospital is the population health division, which is an approach to health care that aims to improve the health of an entire community or region. Currently, the hospital focuses mainly on a small population of high utilizers, and provides home monitoring, follow-up care and tries to keep them out of hospital; in the coming years, however, HCGH will provide greater services and cover more people, and give people the ability to better manage their own care through technology and care coordination.
What has been the greatest challenge of your career?
When you’re an entrepreneur and love what you do, the lines between your personal and professional life get blurred. You’re always searching for the appropriate balance between pursuing initiatives and growing your business, on the one hand, to ensuring that you invest appropriate time in your family and friends. It’s often quite challenging.
In the end, it’s all about making a difference in my community, and for my clients, partners, employees, while giving Cindy’s and my children, Sophie and Andrew, opportunities and experiences that will help them succeed.
How would you like to see your late, great friend and iconic Columbian Dennis Lane remembered?
During this incredibly divisive time in which we live, we need more people like Dennis — people that say it how it is and don’t succumb to the pressures of political correctness, people that don’t get caught up in party politics and people that just don’t take themselves too seriously.
Dennis was a friend to all, and someone who looked for the very best in every situation and every person. He didn’t judge or formulate unjustified biases about people; everyone started with a clean slate and was given an opportunity to make their impression. He truly was one of a kind, and when he left us, it left a hole in this community.
He would have loved watching the redevelopment of Columbia, and I could not be happier that we have a street named after him in the very place he loved so much.