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What is the value of solid legal expertise and advice? Now, more than ever, proactively consulting with a legal team can help businesses avoid costly problems in the long term, according to our panel of industry leaders. The troubled economy has in many ways changed the relationship between lawyers and their clients, say our panelists, and successful law firms are finding ways to adapt.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Stephen Owens, partner at Epperson & Owens, for moderating the discussion.
Participants: Stephen Swindle, Van Cott, Bagley & Cornwall; Christopher Von Maack, Magleby and Greenwood; Richard Davis, Callister, Nebeker & McCullough; Rand Bateman, Bateman IP; Jason Robinson, Babcock, Scott & Babcock; Hal J. Pos, Parson, Behle & Latimer; Lorin Barker, Kirton McConkie; John Adams, Ray, Quinney & Nebeker; Paul Durham, Durham, Jones & Pinegar; Brent Lorimer, Workman Nydegger; Stephen Owens, Epperson & Owens; Christian Clinger, Clinger Law; Edgar Cataxinos, TraskBritt; Brian Hulse, Snell & Wilmer; Mark R. Gaylord, Ballard Spahr; Kevin Anderson, Fabian Law; Ken Black, Stoel Rives; Richard Scott, Chapman & Cutler; Heidi Leithead, Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless; Curtis Jensen, Snow, Jensen & Reece; Paul Harman, Jones Waldo; Greg Lindley, Holland & Hart; Catherine Larson, Strong & Hanni; Ellen Maycock, Kruse, Landa, Maycock & Ricks; Steven Clyde, Clyde, Snow & Sessions.
What strengths or weaknesses do you see in the economy and how do they affect your firm?
VON MAACK: The economy in Utah is definitely improving, with the exception of a handful of sectors. The way that’s affected the litigation side is that we’re seeing disputes about the apportionment of assets rather than what we’ve been seeing since 2008, which was the apportionment of liabilities. After 2008, there were a lot of disputes about who was going to deal with the liabilities from the fallout of the financial crisis and its reverberations.
DURHAM: The technology sector has been pretty strong throughout the economic downturn. Intellectual property, which is oftentimes related with that, is also strong.
LEITHEAD: I work primarily in the employment law sector, and I have noticed a marked shift over the last 18 months from doing a lot of reduction in force to now moving back to general training, discrimination, etc. I’m also seeing a shift to helping employers with recruiting issues—trying to hire—which I see as a positive for our economy.
LORIMER: I agree with Paul that certainly in IP we’ve seen an increase in work. What’s happened, though, is that during the downtimes, the in-house at these various companies started to squeeze us pretty hard both on the prosecution side and on the litigation side. And now that things are getting a little bit better, they’re not letting the vise go very much. There’s only one direction the fees can go, and they’re not letting loose very much.
We do litigation and patent prosecution work, and the patent prosecution side is mostly flat-fee work. The budgets for the preparation of applications, for the filing of office actions, etc. have been going down somewhat during this recessionary period.
In litigation, they are looking a lot more at alternative fees than they did prior to that, and it’s sort of gone lower.
POS: Clients are imposing pressures on larger national law firms because we’re still seeing a steady increase in national work in our office, especially in major litigation and intellectual property.
HARMAN: The downturn affected our work quite a bit. We do a lot of national retail, big-box stuff, and have done for years. I don’t know if you’ve looked around or not, but there are not a lot of Wal-Marts, Lowes, Home Depots and Kohl’s going up. That’s been a big difference in our work—those growth programs and all those big-box retailers just dropped off the edge of the earth. It doesn’t exist anymore.
CLINGER: Because of the economy and the focus on the bottom line, especially in litigation, the mediation practice has dramatically increased. Also with the recent changes to the rules of civil procedure, requiring certification of alternative dispute resolution, things have picked up on the mediation side.
LINDLEY: We’ve noticed a real increase in our resources practice, particularly in the oil and gas arena. We’re just incredibly busy. The price of oil has made it so that drilling here and even looking at oil shale and those other kind of things are becoming a bigger part of our practice.
ADAMS: There’s a major change starting to take place in tax and estate planning—at least currently inside of the Bush-era year tax rates. Especially looking towards next year, there’s a lot of activity that’s taking place among our tax and estate planners.