Outlook 2004: Law - Area's Law Firms Remain Strong Through Slow Economy

December 29, 2003

krevalin
The stunted economy in Western Massachusetts has frozen the size of local law firms for several years. While nearby Hartford and Boston firms had ballooned to lawyers in the hundreds, the larger Springfield firms averaged about 20 attorneys. However, in the past two years when the balloon burst in our larger neighboring cities, Springfield based firms continued to thrive despite the unofficial lawyer hiring freeze. To maintain client satisfaction in an ever-busier climate, some Springfield firms have found alternative means to maximize efficiency.

Despite the doom and gloom of the State’s budgetary crunch and its effects upon Western MA., residents still need legal representation on a regular basis. Traditionally law firms see an increase of bankruptcy work in this kind of economy and a decrease of corporate work. It is no surprise that bankruptcy has become busier over the past few years as personal and corporate bankruptcy increase.

The recession in Western MA did not follow the pattern of the rest of the country. We did not experience massive layoffs; rather, as a rule, many employers simply opted to not replace retiring employees and those who moved on. This resulted in more of a stabilizing of employment levels, rather than downsized companies. It also resulted in a corporate reluctance to spend unnecessary money. However, legal expenses have continued to be a necessary expenditure, so corporate work has remained consistent, counter to economic downswings of the past, or of other markets.

There are also businesses in the area that have been expanding throughout the past several years despite the area’s overall stagnation. Fueled by low interest rates, corporate buying, selling and financing have remained very lucrative in Western MA. Additionally residential real estate practices have experienced a huge increase as the interest rates have fallen and remained low.

Another area of the law that has been experiencing tremendous growth is the Estate Planning and Elder Law departments. A healthier senior population, which is living longer, combined with an abundance of baby boomers coming up on retirement years, creates a profusion of need. Add to that the ever-changing government regulated Medicaid and Medicare laws, which significantly impact clients’ estate plans, and the changes in MA tax exemptions, and the result is a continued and growing need for estate planning services.

Litigation is another area of the law that has seen marked growth throughout this stalled economy. There have been increases in both traditional litigation activity and also alternative dispute resolution. Mediation and arbitration have been growing in popularity as cost effective alternatives to formal litigation. In addition, construction litigation and employment discrimination suits have increased in the past few years.

Healthcare Law has also become more and more prominent as the legal needs of physicians’ practices and other healthcare organizations have increased. No longer just a couple of doctors sharing an office on a handshake deal, today’s medical offices are highly structured businesses that need assistance with contracting, employment issues and regulatory compliance.

With these increased legal needs, law firms are looking for ways to provide a great product that is cost effective to clients. Many law firms have found paralegals to be the silver bullet in maximizing efficiency. These specialists are expertly trained and highly skilled in specific practice areas. They are able to handle routine paperwork, thus freeing up the attorneys to manage more intricate and complex matters. Since paralegals bill at a lower rate, their cost effectiveness keep clients happy by reducing legal expenses.

One of the greatest struggles for Western Massachusetts law firms today is recruiting and retention of quality workers. Since Boston’s economy was hard hit by the economic slowdown, and many law firms were forced to reduce their numbers, Western MA firms currently enjoy the advantage of having uniquely qualified and extremely talented lawyers available. The trick is luring them into the Pioneer Valley. Professional firms wish to maintain a staff consisting of only the most knowledgeable, attentive and courteous employees. Significant administrative resources are consistently committed to finding the best and the brightest talent available.

Despite the economic slowdown in Western Massachusetts, law firms remain busy. People continue to need legal representation for their personal issues and corporate requirements. Although some departments are busier than others, there has been an overall increase of business, and the best law firms continue to thrive.

Stephen N. Krevalin, Esquire, is the managing partner of Bacon & Wilson, P.C. His areas of expertise include general business matters, franchising, healthcare, personal injury and domestic relations. He also has extensive experience in the area of shopping center/mall representation.

by: Stephen N. Krevalin

BusinessWest
December 2003