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The scores of attorney and staff layoffs at large law firms may be grabbing the headlines, but small and mid-sized firms in New York also are making tough decisions on how to survive the current economic crisis. From reining in day-to-day expenses to refocusing their practice areas, these firms are challenged to meet the shifting needs of clients while insuring themselves the revenue they need to stay in business. The majority of New York attorneys in private practice, around 83 percent, are either solo practitioners or ply their craft in firms with fewer than 10 attorneys, according to a 2006 report by a commission appointed by then-Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to study small firm and solo practices. Wall Street layoffs, mortgage foreclosures on a massive scale and a freeze in the financial transaction sector have affected attorneys across all practice areas, some more than others. The smaller the firm, the bigger the impact. “Most small firms have cut back on staffing,” said Mark S. Piazza of Staten Island’s Jacobi, Sieghardt Bousanti & Piazza, a five-attorney general practice firm. Mr. Piazza’s firm has not cut any attorney positions but has cut back on business costs. The firm has changed its Westlaw package and eliminated excess phone lines, cutting its phone bills in half. “When you start to add it up, you can save $20,000 to $30,000 a year, and that adds up for a small firm,” Mr. Piazza said. Meanwhile, some solo practitioners are feeling the crunch even more than their small-firm counterparts. Manhattan attorney Alfreida B. Kenny quit eating out long ago and has now switched from taking cabs to riding the subway. “I’m feeling it quite a lot,” Ms. Kenny said of the toll the current economic situation has taken on her elder law practice. “Clients are paying their bills slowly or not paying their full bills at the end of the month.” Survival Tips

Scott Lanin, a Manhattan solo practitioner who has practiced for 20 years, offers advice for getting through hard times. Mr. Lanin’s practice includes litigation, debtor/creditor matters, bankruptcy and foreclosure. 1. Don’t take every case that walks in the door. Not every new caller should become a client. Use your “spidey” sense to figure out which case may be trouble later. 2. Try to determine a reasonable litigation budget up front. That $5,000 fee that seems enticing now may not be enough to cover the work later if your client runs into financial difficulties. 3. Consider related practice areas. Transactional real estate attorneys who are idle may be able to help clients try loan modifications on defaulted mortgages until closings and contract work pick up again. But be aware that some of these clients will need litigation or bankruptcy assistance too, so consider affiliating on an of-counsel basis with an attorney who concentrates in those areas if you are not comfortable with that type of work. 4. Offer free consults by phone if possible to pre-screen clients before you meet in the office. This is more efficient and saves time. Consider charging a nominal in-office consultation fee as that may leave you with the potential clients who are really serious about retaining you. 5. Pay attention to your “health account” as much as your “bank account.” When you are the most stressed, that is the time you need to exercise. I personally have a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and have been doing kickboxing for 25 years. I work out twice a week and it helps clear my mind. 6. Be nice to the people you meet on the way up; you’ll meet them again on the way down. There are plenty of litigators with obnoxious personalities – that does not mean they are good at what they do or should be emulated.

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