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Trends Report | What’s Up, Doc? Hot Spots to Watch


FROM: July / August 2005, PAGE 8 BY: Robert W. Denney

The other day one of my grandsons came to me and, with a big grin on his face, said, “What’s up, Doc?” I learned he had been watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons on TV and he thought that question was, in his words, “Cool.” I think so, too. Moreover, it made me think to take a different approach to my column for this issue.

So, instead of covering just one trend (my usual assignment), here are some answers to the question of, “What’s up in the legal profession, Doc?” for this summer.

A litigation boom. For starters, everyone (including non-lawyers) is aware of the continued growth in litigation. While this is true almost “across the board” for all types of cases, one of the hottest areas today is health-care litigation. As recently as five years ago, most of the cases were either malpractice or were comparatively small. Since then, however, there has literally been an explosion in such matters as corporate deals, mergers, peer review, bankruptcy and even fraud.

Litigation boutiques. For many years, most litigation boutiques were 10-to-15-lawyer firms that grew slowly, if they grew at all. As a group, they attracted little attention in the profession. Now some of the older firms, as well as more recent start-ups, have grown to 35, 75 and almost 100 lawyers. This makes them comparable in size to the litigation departments of many large full-service firms. Further, they are now recognized as an important category of firm, as attested by the American Lawyer’s first Litigation Boutique of the Year awards in early 2005.

Of course, some of this growth is owing to the fact that large firms are increasingly conflicted out from taking certain cases. But there’s more behind this trend. Some of these firms have attracted, or been more recently founded by, top-notch litigators who do not want to be part of a large multipractice firm. This includes lawyers such as Parker Folse III at 62-lawyer Susman Godfrey; David Beck at 35-lawyer Beck, Redden & Secrest; and Ronald Ravikoff at 93-lawyer Zuckerman Spaeder. As a result, these firms—though small by today’s standards—are handling major cases for major clients. Hence, despite their size and the fact that they only have a few offices—or for some firms, just one—they are now known as national firms.

Practice areas. Three particular areas are looming large on the radar screen right now.

First, media law has been around a long time, but it’s never been as big as it is today. In addition, it’s probably never been as diversified. In a recent Of Counsel (the excellent newsletter from Aspen Publishers), Steve Taylor provided a number of examples of the matters being handled, among them: A newspaper team tried to examine public records but a local government agency wouldn’t allow access; another newspaper was charged with “libel by implication”; and a TV news station asked its reporters to sign a non-compete agreement.

Second, while many firms have broad-based health care practices, a small number, such as Seattle’s Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, have recently formed a highly specialized Long-Term Care and Senior Housing Group. The rationale: These entities have a whole different set of issues and regulations that hospitals and other health-care providers do not face.

Third, many labor and employment law practices are now seeing a substantial increase in their class-action caseloads.

New executive positions. Large firms, and even a few smaller ones, continue to establish the position of pro bono director—which, in most instances, is held by a professional who is not a lawyer. Now a few firms are creating several other positions.

While many firms have a diversity committee, and some have hired consultants to help develop diversity programs, Philadelphia’s Saul Ewing has hired a diversity program manager to run its program full-time. In another area, the issue of lawyer burnout, no firm has really committed to addressing this critical problem—until now, that is. Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart recently created a position it calls “director of professional and personal life integration” and has hired an organizational psychologist to fill it.

For some reason, however, I still know of only one “director of mischief”—Marcy Johnson at Schiff Hardin & Waite. (Could the next position be “director of what’s up?” If so, I might recommend Bugs Bunny.)

Bob Denney ( bob@robertdenney.com), President of Robert Denney Associates, Inc., has one thing in common with Bugs Bunny–he eats carrots, too. He also provides management and strategic marketing consulting to law firms nationwide. He can be reached at (610) 964-1938.