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Intellectual property and mergers and acquisitions are still red-hot practice areas while insurance coverage and environmental law is cooling off, according to legal consultant Robert Denney’s 18th annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession.” In addition, Denney said that interest in the Latin American legal market is growing, and Chicago and Las Vegas are the U.S. cities now attracting the attention of law firms. The report compiled lists of trends in the profession in areas of business development, marketing, practice growth, mergers and management. Denney placed environmental law on the cool to cold list, but added that the practice area could get hot again – no pun intended – in the area of global warming. That made Joseph M. Manko of environmental boutique Manko Gold Katcher & Fox happy. He is giving a speech this week on global warming in Argentina – part of the Latin American market that made Denney’s list of hot geographic spots for firms. Manko said his firm has been busier this year than ever and is increasingly doing work in the environmental end of the regulatory industry. He said energy companies are today’s petroleum industry and he sees his firm handling more work for those energy companies. Manko has been giving several speeches on global warming and the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which deals with whether the EPA is responsible for regulating carbon dioxide. “I’m sort of like the Al Gore in short pants,” Manko said. While global warming law may creep up the list, stem cell legal work has already begun to rise in anticipation of an increased need for the practice area, Denney said. He placed the practice area on the “getting hot” list, and said there are just a few “forward-thinking” firms who have created practice areas around stem cell legal issues. Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham is one of those firms. Sanford B. Ferguson is the co-chairman of the firm’s stem cell technology practice that was formalized about a year and a half ago. He said stem-cell-related legal work started to really emerge about two years ago, but the creation of the practice area was more in anticipation of the work to come. “We’re making a long-term investment,” Ferguson said. Much of the stem-cell-related technology is still in the lab stages and has yet to make it to the clinical trials, he said. The clinical phase could take a “substantial period” of time before making it to the commercialization phase, Ferguson said. The “vast majority” of the legal work that will come from stem-cell-related activity will come during the commercial phase, he said, and that is when Kirkpatrick & Lockhart is looking for its investment to pay off. While no one is sure as to when that time will come, Ferguson said the rule of thumb in the market is that stem cell research will hit the commercial phase in about five years. What the firm most likely will avoid in terms of legal work involving stem cells is government-relations work, Ferguson said. “We will probably steer clear of those policy debates,” he said. According to Denney, firms aren’t steering clear of the Latin American market. That may be a surprise to some in Philadelphia as only a few of the large local firms have strong interests in the area. When Cozen O’Connor opened its Miami office in May, the firm said it wanted to build its book of business in Latin America. The firm said in May that it would keep its options open in terms of opening up shop in Latin or South America. Reed Smith has been in full-growth mode lately with mergers in the works in Chicago and London and has also spoken about an interest in the Asian market. Director of Strategic Planning Michael B. Pollack said Reed Smith hasn’t seen any huge desire from its clients for a presence in Latin America. “We would have time if we were getting a push from our clients,” he said. Many of the firms who have offices in Latin America are based in Texas, California and Miami, Fla., because their clients often do business in Mexico or other Latin American countries, Pollack said. The challenge with opening up an office in Latin America, he said, is that it is not just one distinct market. A firm might just as easily find a need for an office in Brazil as it would Venezuela, for example, Pollack said. There is a lot to think about when mapping out the strategic plan of a law firm, large or small. Consultant Mary Beth Pratt of MBPratt Consulting is looking to take some of that confusion away. As Denney mentions in his report, Pratt has teamed up with Temple University’s Beasley School of Law to teach a course of law firm management. The course, Legal, Professional and Business Aspects of Law Practice, will be offered to third-year law students at the school starting in January. Pratt will serve as an adjunct professor at Temple and said she plans on bringing in several consultants and in-house counsel to help reinforce the lessons. The course was designed with Temple professor Bill Woodward to match the culture of the school’s law program, Pratt said. The four sections will be law firm economics, time management, client development and ethics related to the business of firms. Some of the topics will include fee structures, accounting, partnership and tax law related to firms, firm organization and referrals. The textbook for the course, Law Practice Management, was written by a professor who teaches a similar course at Pace University. Pratt said that since word has gotten out about the course, she has heard of other schools around the country that offer similar courses. She said the course is designed to help attorneys who plan to go to large or small firms. Other Topics on the List Other practice areas that are getting hot, according to Denney’s report, include asbestos litigation and structured finance and securitization work. Practice areas that remained hot included real estate, securities fraud, employment law, nursing home litigation and elder law. Along with mergers and acquisitions, anti-trust law remains red hot, Denney said. Immigration and complex litigation also made that list. Denney dismissed the conventional wisdom that for years has said medium-sized firms are endangered. There have been case studies, he said, of several medium firms that have seen improved financials over the past few years and have rejected merger proposals. More firms are beginning to focus on training associates about leadership styles and communication skills, he said. Succession planning for client responsibility and firm management is becoming more recognized and implemented, according to the report.

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