Stewart Michaels THE NJBIZ INTERVIEW
New Jersey Middle-Market Law Firms Face Uncertain Future
NJBIZ: In general, would you say and expand internationally, they want
these are tough times for lawyers? When companies like Linens ‘N Things, Lehman Brothers or Merrill to work with outside law firms that
Michaels: In 20 years of practice, have a presence in their local operat-
we’ve never seen anything like Lynch go under, or are snapped up by other companies, lawyers who work ing areas. A New Jersey company that
this. In just the last eight weeks or for the business or their outside law firms may account for a fair number of also has offices in Europe doesn’t want
so, we’ve had 12 corporate clients the employment casualties. Stewart Michaels, chairman of Livingston- its outside counsel to have to catch a
cancel job requisitions for in- jet every time there’s a face-to-face
house lawyers and, in another based Topaz Attorney Search, has a ringside view of the way the slow meeting. Some law firms set up part-
case, a client initially wanted to economy is affecting the market for attorneys. While bankruptcy lawyers are nerships with local counsel, but it’s
hire three attorneys, but was only not always as effective as having your
in demand, attorneys who focus on areas like financing or mergers and
approved for one. They’re desper- own people on the ground.
ate to fill positions, but in many acquisitions are suffering, he said. NJBIZ reporter Martin C. Daks spoke Also, companies are trying to
cases, their head count has been with Michaels, 63, about what’s changing in the legal field and why small limit the number of outside law
frozen as a result of the economy. firms they retain. It’s easier to man-
law firms may be well-positioned to ride out this tumbling economy.
age fewer firms, and there’s a better
NJBIZ: What sort of hiring patterns opportunity for those [fewer] law
are you seeing in law firms? finance, and commercial real estate, enough, though, the downturn in flexible enough to deal with differ- firms to establish a deep relationship
Michaels: Companies may cut back the way the New York and California the economy can also prompt the ent kinds of situations. with the client. Also, a company that
on in-house counsel, but the legal firms did. As these premier firms parties to move faster. Say a partner can throw a lot of business to a single
work still has to get done. So some realize they’re overstaffed, they’re has been considering a move. If he NJBIZ: Is this an opportunity for New firm has more leverage, and may be
law firms are seeing a rise in shedding employees. or she is concerned about the viabil- Jersey-based law firms to pick up able to get a better deal on its fees.
demand for their services. But while ity of their current firm, they may some heavy hitters?
there’s a tremendous need for asso- NJBIZ: What does all this mean for seek to move faster, before their firm Michaels: Firms here have done NJBIZ: What about middle-market
ciate-level lawyers in particular, your own search firm? crumbles. If they’ve got a strong that in the past, but besides con- law firms?
many firms are afraid to add people Michaels: Law firms are being even book of business [clients that will go cerns over the economy, they Michaels: You’re going to see the
because of their concerns over the more selective now, so it can take with them to a new firm], then they found that when things got better, rainmakers — or key personnel that
direction of the economy. Instead, longer to make a may not have a many of the lawyers they picked attract clients — get picked off by
everyone’s just working harder to placement. But his- tough time find- up in the lean times went back to large firms. This will enable the
cover all the bases. torically, law firms “[New Jersey firms] ing a suitor. New York when economic condi- rainmakers to cross-market their
rarely rush into When it tions improved. clients and cement their relation-
found that when things
NJBIZ: Big-name firms like Califor- these decisions any- comes to associ- ships, by offering them a wider
nia-based Thelen LLP may dis- way. At the highest got better, may of the ate-level moves NJBIZ: What kinds of law firms are range of legal services.
solve at the end of this month, levels, it can take lawyers they picked though, it’s a dif- doing well right now?
while New York-based Thacher, years of d