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Bankruptcy, energy, labor and employment and litigation lawyers are having a banner year in 2002, according to the midyear update of “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession,” released by Wayne, Pa.-based legal consultant Robert Denney. The four practice areas topped the report’s “still red hot” list and retained their top spots from the year-end 2001 report. According to Denney, bankruptcy shows no signs of cooling down, and some firms have doubled the size of their bankruptcy practices over the past year in response to the cold economy. “We do not see any letup in bankruptcy, regardless of what happens in the economy,” Denney said. Large firms’ energy practices continue to thrive, Denney said. And the trend is not just national but extends to large firms all over the globe. Privacy restrictions in the United States and the European Union have, according to Denney, added fire to labor and employment practices. The number of age discrimination suits in the United States are also climbing, Denney said, giving labor and employment groups plenty of work to sink their teeth into. According to Denney, all types of litigation are still red hot, bolstered in part by a doubling of securities suits. Professional malpractice suits, a la Arthur Andersen, Enron, Global Crossing and others, have also helped keep litigation fired up. Real estate is still hot, the report says. “The only one that has surprised us is commercial development, meaning office buildings, which is still going strong in many markets,” Denney said. “We expected residential, but not commercial.” Estate planning, subrogation, employee benefits, alternative dispute resolution, intellectual property, immigration and family law also made the “still hot” list. And antitrust, natural resources, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate finance are heating up. At the bottom of the barrel are venture capital, (but expect some signs of life from the practice area by early 2003) and telecommunications, which has been cold for more than a year and isn’t expected to warm up for several more. Denney said that signals in late 2001 indicated that venture capital could begin to turn around by this fall, but current signs show that the 180 won’t begin any sooner than early 2003. International hotspots include Asia and South America. China made the list for the second time in a row, as did Japan. Brazil seems to be taking off as well, as a handful of U.S. firms have opened up small offices in the country despite its financial problems. The report also says that lawyers, not just marketing directors, are putting emphasis on client services, allowing for more interaction between attorneys and their clients. Electronic billing is also getting the nod from more and more firms, allowing for speedy payment and for clients to track their firms’ work on key issues. And lateral hires are being catered to at an increasing number of firms through lateral integration programs. “At a lot of firms, there is a lot of movement of lawyers, partners as well as associates,” Denney said. “So many law firms don’t know how to integrate a new partner or a new associate, but more are educating them about what is going on at the firm and are also helping the lateral to get known in his or her practice.” Other trends, Denney said, include U.S.-U.K. mergers, the latest of which saw Los Angeles’ Mayer Brown & Platt join forces with London’s Rowe & Maw in late April, and an increase in contract attorneys, in firms as well as in corporate legal departments. The final report for 2002 will be issued in late November, Denney said.

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