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Despite gloom among the dot-coms, intellectual property law will remain the hottest big-firm practice area in New Jersey in 2001, and employment law for both plaintiffs and defendants will be strong, too, recruiting experts predict. Placement executives and hiring partners around the state also say that although a downturn in the business cycle now appears to be inevitable, there are no signs of a slackening legal market, particularly in the Princeton corridor. “I think Wall Street is in deep trouble and we’re looking at 18 months that will be poor for business, but may be good for lawyers,” says William Maderer, the hiring partner at Newark’s Saiber Schlesinger Satz & Goldstein. He and eight other partners and recruiters said in interviews last week that even if the legal market declines, it won’t result in the massive, scary layoffs of the early 1990s, because firms have been cautious about expansion. Right now, many firms and corporate counsel offices are looking for IP lawyers, particularly associates with three to six years’ experience. That seems to be illogical, given the demise of many fledgling Internet companies and the decline of initial public offerings of technology companies. But there’s still a wild demand for IP lawyers in the field of patent prosecutions, says Mona Alpert, president of Legal Ezy in West Orange. “Explosive is the word for it,” says David Garber, owner of Princeton Legal Staffing Group. The state’s biotechnology companies are generating much of the work. “Biotech is an area that is not going to be slowing down; it’s burgeoning,” says Carl Rifino, a recruiter at AV Search Consultants in Bridgewater. Rifino says the demand is so strong, senior associates who left local firms and in-house positions for higher salaries in New York are being wooed back to the state by good salaries and a better lifestyle. “Here they can look at 1,800 to 2,000 hours compared to 2,500 in New York,” Rifino says. Kenneth McBroom, president of Cooper Beckett, a lawyer search firm in Fort Lee, says the pattern of IP associates going to New York appears to be reversing because many lawyers have found “the hours in New York are horrific.” “They’re calling and saying, ‘Ken, get me the heck out of here,’” he says. And there are plenty of New Jersey firms interested in hiring them. Steven Picco, the Princeton-based managing partner of Reed Smith’s operations in New Jersey and New York says, “Intellectual property is a major recruiting focus for us now.” The firm expects to add eight practitioners in the field in the coming months. “It’s an area in which our clients are asking us to beef up,” he says. It’s difficult to find candidates, and it’s almost impossible to convert a transactional lawyer to the field quickly because attorneys who want to appear before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must pass the office’s special exam. “The work requires a significant scientific background,” Rifino says. As a result, McBroom concludes, the mania for IP lawyers is “an esoteric demand.” WHAT ELSE IS SHAKING? The question for traditional New Jersey firms, which don’t have substantial IP practices, is what else is likely to be hot in the coming year? The answers, for the most part, are practice areas that thrive in a declining economic climate or are relatively immune to the business cycle. Employment and bankruptcy work seem to be examples. Among the experts interviewed last week, not one expressed optimism about the economy. They can read too, and the business pages of newspapers have been filled with reports of continued decline in stock prices and sluggish retail sales during the Christmas season. On Wednesday, the government reported that the index of leading indicators — its main predictor of economic activity over the next six months — fell 0.2 percent in November. It was the seventh decline in eight months and reflected stock price losses and layoffs. In the coming climate, employment litigation is likely to be a hot field. That’s partly because it has already been growing steadily for years, thanks to fee-switching statutes, an eagerness by personal injury lawyers to find new markets and publicity about multimillion dollar verdicts, Maderer says. That has created work on the defense side for corporations and carriers, such as American Insurance Group, that have marketed Employment Practices Liability Insurance, he says. Maderer estimates that employment work represents 20 percent to 25 percent of his firm’s litigation caseload and will remain so. John Cromie, the hiring partner at Roseland’s Connell Foley, says employment law will thrive in a downsizing economy, not just because of discrimination claims. Layoffs tend to generate disputes over stock options, stock warrants and other executive benefits. Cromie says a declining economy can also be good for litigation groups, which have traditionally been the largest departments in big and midsized firms in New Jersey. “When times are tough litigants pursue claims that they might otherwise forget about,” Cromie says. “We’re looking to hire people for commercial litigation and labor and employment,” Cromie says. Most of the experts say a downturn is sure to create work for bankruptcy lawyers, yet the growth of that practice area is still below the horizon. “We have not seen any substantial requests for bankruptcy attorneys, but I think the good firms recognize that the economy is cyclical,” Rifino says. According to the accepted wisdom, a rise in bankruptcies tends to help firms that maintain strong bankruptcy practices year in and year out, and that bulking up in that field when times are bad doesn’t work. For those firms there can be “a sliver lining” in a bad economy, says Steven Klein, hiring partner at a firm with a large bankruptcy practice, Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard. Klein and two other lawyers trying to spot growth areas say the recent unease in financial markets has not been seen in real estate markets in New Jersey, and there’s still plenty of activity in that field, particularly in central New Jersey. Michael Mann, a partner in Pepper Hamilton’s Princeton office, says he is anticipating growth in real estate work this year. Housing and office space are still in short supply in New Jersey’s central corridor, he says. And though it’s true that the lending community has grown more cautious, corporate and securities work is still booming, Mann says. “There’s a difference between what people perceive and the reality,” he says. “I don’t see any slowdown yet.” Garber, of Princeton Legal Staffing Group, says, “Despite the coming downturn there’s still a lot of deals being made.” “Most of the firms are looking for good corporate people,” he says. For a recruiter, Garber has a special perspective. A former partner of Newark’s McCarter & English and Philadelphia’s Buchanan Ingersoll, he started practicing law in 1989, the last time the bottom fell out of the economy. “I don’t think it will be like that again,” he says. “Firms haven’t over- hired.”

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