William Zewadski Collecting Photography for Your Law Firm

When William Zewadski (JD 69) looks at a photograph for the first time, he looks much deeper than most. He is gauging the emotions he feels and whether he wants to purchase it for his private collection or his law firm, Trenam Kemker Attorneys in Tampa.

Zewadski recently gave a gallery talk at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art about the difference between collecting individually and for a business. His firm started its collection in 1987 because a senior partner had an interest in photography and a private collection.

Experience has proven to him the pursuit has been a good investment all around because not only has it enhanced the office décor and staff interaction, it has increased in value as well. His tips on collecting for a law firm include:

  • Find a theme, even if it is arbitrary. Zewadski and his partners collected the works of American photographers who were alive in 1970 because that was when their firm was founded.
  • Determine the display space available and a specific budget.
  • Go to auction and/or hire a consultant.
  • Get your whole firm involved. “We have 80 lawyers and everyone had to approve.
  • Frame everything behind an ultraviolet filtered plexiglass. Color photos look best framed in mahogany, and black and whites in black frames. Make all frames consistent unless the artist framed them.
  • Show your collection to clients as well as universities and students by appointment.
  • Many artists and galleries will provide a discount if you ask and if you plan more than one purchase.
  • Consider office security. “I bought an 8×10 for $1,900 in 1987 and found out later it was worth $20,000. Someone could have easily put that in a briefcase and walked out, so I sold it and bought a dozen others. Today that photo is worth a quarter of a million dollars,” he said.
  • Collect the work of photographers of different nationalities and races for a more complex arrangement of imagery.

“In corporate collecting we try to be as excellent in our photo collecting as we think we are as lawyers practicing the law,” Zewadski said. “Almost all our purchases have gone up in value. I tell my partners it is the only thing in the office that appreciates — computers, books, and furniture depreciate — but the photos get more valuable. They are beginning to believe me.