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There has been much change in the legal market over the past six months. So much change that Robert Denney couldn’t wait until the end of the year to issue his annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession” report. The Wayne, Pa.-based legal consultant released a midyear update of his report this week. According to Denney, there are four practice areas that are still red-hot — intellectual property, technology, entertainment, and labor and employment. Although he said most lawyers already know that IP is hot, the trend lies in trademarks for restaurants. A growing number of restaurants are opening national and international branches, and more are advertising on the Internet. As a result, Denney said, trademark applications for restaurant names and products have jumped 40 percent in the past few years. Denney said entertainment has been hot for the past four years, a trend that has heightened in the United States and expanded to Europe. A new development has been for firms such as California’s Morrison & Foerster to combine their technology and entertainment practices into one practice group. As for labor and employment, Denney said increased unionization efforts are making an already hot practice area even hotter in the United States. In the getting-hot category, Denney places bankruptcy and international arbitration. He said some firms had reported a doubling in bankruptcy work since last summer. And while many European firms have had separate arbitration practice groups for years, U.S. firms are now separating international arbitration into a distinct practice area. To no one’s surprise, the three “cool” practice areas Denney lists are mergers and acquisitions, venture capital and corporate finance. Aside from the decline in IPOs, he said, corporate finance lawyers are also feeling the impact of accounting and consulting firms delving into this area. Two new practice areas have cropped up. Gay law is a practice recently developed by Levenfeld Pearlstein, a midsized, full-service Chicago firm, which Denney said may be the first of its kind in the country. Toxic mold practice has been spawned by media coverage of mold-contaminated buildings and high-profile victims such as the real Erin Brockovich. Germany is a hot foreign market, according to Denney, with midsized firms from around the world now following in the footsteps of U.S. and U.K. firms. And he said Frankfurt is not the only site; other regional financial centers such as Dusseldorf, Munich and Berlin are the home of new offices and business for these firms. In other trends in the profession, Denney said there had been a big backlash to the dramatic associate salary raises from last year. Partners are unhappy about the resulting decline in their profits, paralegals are upset at not receiving comparable raises, and clients are refusing to oblige with proposed fee increases to foot the bill. Multitier partnerships also are growing rapidly. Denney said that some sources tell him as many as 75 percent of all firms now have them, whether they acknowledge it or not. But he said associates at many firms accept, sometimes even prefer, nonequity status. And equity partners favor it as well because it slices the profit pie into fewer pieces, providing more money for them. Other trends include firing clients that are either unprofitable or cause a conflict that interferes with a firm merger; performance-based compensation for associates, replacing the lock-step approach; and succession plans for retiring partners.

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