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CHICAGO � Meltzer, Purtill & Stelle, a 24-lawyer firm that would be easy to overlook in a city filled with megafirms, is benefiting from shifts in the real estate and legal industries even as the U.S. economic downturn takes a toll. The firm, which has two offices � one in Chicago and one in suburban Schaumburg, Ill. � specializes in real estate, related lending work and general corporate and business law. While the U.S. credit crunch is depressing the real estate market and the demand for legal services in that sector, Meltzer Purtill is seeing a silver lining in the shift of more real estate lending work from national to regional banks, which want the local firm’s services. Plus, distress in the industry is creating real estate conflicts that haven’t cropped up in years, driving up demand for lawyers. “We have clients who are in trouble because the market is difficult,” said Brian Meltzer, who has many real estate development and homebuilder clients. Not only is the firm helping craft real estate transactions that may offer more protections to homebuilders and developers, it’s assisting more clients in litigious situations created by the slowing real estate market. For instance, developers who haven’t been able to sell all of the residential space in a new project sometimes must leave units empty, slow construction or halt the project altogether, angering residents who have already bought into the developments. With many of the firm’s real estate clients laying off workers, the firm sometimes becomes key to the company’s institutional memory, Meltzer said. In addition, as national banks stiffen lending terms across the country, with regional banks picking up the slack, the firm is seeing a rise in the percentage of its legal work from the smaller banks, said Bill Mitchell, a partner who focuses on banking and secured lending for the real estate sector. Last July, the firm closed on a $160 million deal for a local bank financing the construction of a mixed-use, high-rise building in Chicago that previously would have been backed by a national bank, Mitchell said. “Local deals are getting done locally,” he said. While the firm’s real estate expertise has attracted merger offers from larger national law firms, so far Meltzer Purtill has rebuffed them because its business thrives on local legal needs and wouldn’t benefit much from a larger national or international platform, Meltzer said. Becoming part of a larger firm would likely mean pressure to raise rates for existing clients who may not want to pay more, he said. As it is now, Meltzer Purtill is benefiting anyway from the expansion of the big firms. As the larger rivals seek to specialize in areas such as private equity and intellectual property that will generate high rates and more revenue, they’re often referring less lucrative work to Meltzer Purtill. The larger firms don’t necessarily want to do general corporate work on employee matters and other day-to-day issues, Meltzer said. “It doesn’t make economic sense” for the larger firms, he said. Meltzer Purtill recently has seen a rise in such referrals and expects that trend to continue. For instance, a large Chicago firm late last year referred a small suburban company, which the bigger firm had recently helped a private equity client acquire, to Meltzer Purtill for general corporate work, Meltzer said. “I think we’ll see more of that,” he said.

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