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PHILADELPHIA — Intellectual property and mergers and acquisitions are still red-hot practice areas, while insurance coverage and environmental law are cooling off, according to legal consultant Robert Denney’s 18th annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession” report. In addition, Denney said, 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 the 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 Manko of environmental boutique Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox happy. He is giving a speech on global warming this week 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 than ever this year 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 recently argued U.S. Supreme Court case, Massachusetts v. 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. Although 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 that have created practice areas around stem-cell legal issues. Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham is one of those firms. Sanford Ferguson is the co-chairman of the firm’s stem-cell technology practice, which 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, adding that the clinical phase could take a “substantial period” of time before making it to the commercialization phase. The “vast majority” of the legal work 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. Although no one is sure as to when that time will come, Ferguson suggests stem-cell research could reach 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, he said. “We will probably steer clear of those policy debates.” According to Denney, firms aren’t steering clear of the Latin American market. 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 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 the firm has also shown an interest in the Asian market. Director of Strategic Planning Michael 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 that have offices in Latin America are based in Texas, California, and Miami, 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. Other practice areas that are getting hot, according to Denney’s report, include asbestos litigation and structured finance and securitization work. Practice areas that remain hot include real estate, securities fraud, employment law, nursing home litigation, and elder law.
Gina Passarella is a reporter for The Legal Intelligencer , an ALM publication.

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