IRVINE, Calif. – Often overshadowed by their counterparts at multi-national law firms, 26 local law firms and the editor of the state’s largest legal mfagazine participated in the 2nd annual Legal Forum hosted by Rockwood Communications Counsel (RCC) on April 16. Over 20 legal specialties were represented including immigration, environmental, labor/employment, bankruptcy, family/special needs and adoption law, trial litigation and intellectual property.
Editor of the California Lawyer Magazine Chuleenan Svetvilas said, "The forum brought together a good mix of attorneys from several practices doing interesting legal work in Orange County and the Inland Empire." Participants gave a summary of the trends, challenges and opportunities observed in their respective practices.
RCC President Crystal Rockwood says the purpose of RCC’s Legal Forums is to provide a voice for those typically overlooked for insight on the legal landscape. “Like most vertical industries, the legal industry tends to focus on the mega firms doing mega deals.” Rockwood notes that during the economic downturn in ’08 more clients chose to tap the local law firm base. “They discovered a pleasant surprise—smart attorneys doing high caliber work—at lower hourly rates.”
The regions of Orange County and the Inland Empire combined are home to more than seven million people comprising nearly one-quarter of California’s population. UC Irvine, the second largest business in Orange County with a $4.8 billion local impact, was represented by Campus Counsel Kyhm Penfil who said, “[RCC’s Legal Forum] demonstrated quite literally the broad range of Orange County’s legal practice and the deep expertise of its lawyers.”
Ontario based attorneys Brian Reider and Richard Egger of Best Best & Krieger LLP shared, “Our area is the canary in the coal mine. If something is going to go bad in the economy, it’s going to happen here first,” said Reider, noting that the Inland Empire is healthy now. Egger agreed saying, “Projects are happening; people are waking up and spending time to make and fight about money.”
Summary of Trending Topics
Robert Garrett of Garrett & Tully, which specializes in trial and appellate work for high stakes litigation, said, “The advent of analytics and the excess of new lawyers has led to budgeting complexities with large companies putting more work out for bid.”
Environmental law is growing, Rick McNeil, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer said, “There are more air and water quality cases affecting land development projects in the past 18 months than in the last 18 years.” Many attorneys concurred that the new dynamics in immigration law combined with sophisticated Chinese investors’ acquisition of real estate has kept the two practices busy.
James Hinds of Hinds & Shankman said California’s Central District is, “the largest consumer filing district in the country.” Changes to patent law are also up, Robert Fish of Fish & Tsang noted. “In the last 3-5 years, we’ve seen more changes to patent law than the last 3-4 decades.” Jeffrey Adelson of Adelson, Testan, Brudno, Novell & Jimenez, which represents insurance carriers and self-insured employers, among others, shared, “Worker’s compensation has shifted to consulting, which has become an integral part of workers compensation with the adaptation of predictive modeling.”
Probably most alarming was the trend shared by Mark Wilson of Klein & Wilson, a business trial lawyer firm representing both plaintiffs and defendants. Wilson observed, “In the last several years, lawsuits in malpractice are down, with one exception—lawyer malpractice. Like the cobbler’s kid who doesn’t have shoes, lawyers often don’t look at their own agreements.”
A survey of participants at this year’s Legal Forum indicated that over 90% considered the event productive and serves as an excellent opportunity to gain new client resources. Rockwood says the positive feedback confirms the need for legal forums, “Without a doubt, this stratum of the legal sector is doing important work that is impacting the state and beyond, it’s exciting to watch."