By Michael Petro, originally published in Buffalo Business First on 9/18/15.

A lot to celebrate in Buffalo’s legal community

Even as a variety of annual awards are bestowed on area law firms and their attorneys at this time of the year, we’d like to think that our presentation of the Legal Elite stands out.

After processing mountains of names of the attorneys who recently earned other legal honors, it felt good to get back to focusing on this special publication that recognizes Western New York lawyers for 2015.

Don’t get me wrong, other honors — including Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers — are certainly reason for firms and their employees to celebrate. But we strive to make the Legal Elite a special platform that puts a spotlight on Buffalo-area attorneys.

After all, it focuses solely on attorneys who perform fine work right in our own backyard and features them in a joint venture between sister publications Business First and the Buffalo Law Journal. Legal Elite is an exclusive club, with 21 “Legal Leaders” and 141 attorneys.

Honorees are not only the best of the best from a plethora of practice areas and legal expertise, and from large to small firms, organizations, schools and businesses — they also are those most respected by their fellow attorneys.

The nomination process is in your hands. All we do is tally up the peer-driven nominations using a point system and the criteria and eligibility qualifications put into place last year. When the selection process is complete and honorees announced, we celebrate it with a special publication.

Speaking of celebrating, many things have happened that have had an impact on the legal community over the past year. Maybe part of it is that I’m in my second year as editor and reporter of the Buffalo Law Journal and a legal contributor to Business First, but it seems like I’m receiving more news and highlights from the industry these days.

I feel like I write a story almost every other week about a new law firm being opened by area attorneys or an out-of-town firm expanding with an office in Western New York. There’s also a handful of locally based firms reaching out to open offices across New York state and even nationally.

Just look at the growth at firms such as Goldberg Segalla, a Buffalo-based business broadening its national footprint, and Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, which in the same year it was celebrating its 50th anniversary in Buffalo expanded its reach with an office in Albany.

Earlier this year, the local legal industry made national news when two of the area’s larger firms merged.

Buffalo-based Damon Morey and Syracuse’s Hiscock & Barclay, which had a sizable office here, came together to form an even more powerful platform across New York, especially Upstate.

Then there’s the collegiality I constantly hear about from attorneys who laud the work of their colleagues. To me, it seems that attorneys treat one another with the same level of respect that most of us do for each other in everyday life in the City of Good Neighbors.

That is seen in this publication — more than 300 attorneys submitted nominations for co-workers and industry colleagues. In total, we received more than 1,000 nominations and attorneys from 89 entities were selected.

As for more highlights over the past year, who can forget the attorneys who not only serve their practice and employers with distinction but give a number of their precious hours to pro bono work? These professionals must be saluted, and we know there are many of you out there doing this.

I see countless news releases and notifications about attorneys providing free legal counsel to those who are in great need of it, and I’m happy to see a good number of them receiving awards for such work.

This year we also asked for Rising Star and Lifetime Achievement award nominations. While we did get a number of them — and to those who did participate, we thank you — it was not enough of a sampling to hand out inaugural awards in those two categories. We will consider this year’s nominations, refine the selection method over the next year and then potentially hand out such awards in the future. We also anticipate bigger and better things ahead for the Legal Elite. Stay tuned for more announcements leading up to next year’s special publication.

We hope you embrace these endeavors and help us move forward with them. The legal industry seems to be healthy, mirroring the regional resurgence. Indeed, Buffalo is on a comeback roll and, from all indications, it’s bringing the legal community with it. These pages are evidence of that.

We ask that you to take a look at this special publication and all the men and women so distinguished in their legal careers. See where they work, where they came from, what they do and, through their answers to a few questions that we asked, you may get some insight into what makes them tick.