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									                                                                                                     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
								
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