By Michael Petro  |  Buffalo Law Journal  |  1/5/15

What’s ahead for Buffalo’s legal community in 2015

Joseph Kubarek of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel hasn’t seen this much transactional work since before the financial crisis struck in 2008. The last few months brought a steady flow of transactions, thanks in large part to a rebounding economy, said Kubarek, managing partner of the Buffalo law firm. Up until the final quarter of 2014, he said,that type of work had been sporadic in the wake of the national and global recession.

“People seem to be convinced that it’s time to make an investment in new things and new business,” he said. “Sellers are saying, ‘It may be the right time to sell. It may never be this good again,’ “

Peter Marlette of Damon Morey said the increase in transactions is due to a variety of factors including banks making more loans, the willingness of business owners to take additional risks and the economic upturn.

“We’re excited about the prospects for 2015,” said Marlette, managing partner and senior partner in the firm’s litigation department. “There just seems to be so much going on.”

Damon Morey added five attorneys in the last month alone, he said.

“There’s just an uptick, especially in Western New York, where you can look out the window and see more going on than I’ve seen in my lifetime. You’re seeing outside investment come into Western New York that we never used to see,” he said.

Hodgson Russ Chairman Daniel Oliverio agreed, saying his law firm has been strengthened by the economic boom. An improved economy has prompted many companies to come off the sidelines and set their sites on acquiring other entities.

These days he’s seeing lots of activity in the marketplace, and he expects that trend to continue in 2015. Indeed, it has led to a recovery of sorts for what used to be a staple practice area in many law firms: mergers and acquisitions.

“And that’s to everyone’s benefit,” Oliverio said.

Daniel Gerber, a partner at Goldberg Segalla and co-chair of the global insurance services practice group, said the Buffalo firm saw a significant bump in transactional work with mergers and acquisitions as the corporate environment heated up.

Likewise at Phillips Lytle, said managing partner David McNamara. He sees increased demand for the firm’s services, much of it driven by M&A activity. It’s a trend that started to build in 2014 and he expects it to continue, thanks in part to improved business conditions in Western New York.

While corporate spending may not return to pre-2008 levels anytime soon, the scars left by a gloomy economy in recent years are beginning to fade.

“It creates a lot of demand within the industry and that creates a ripple effect with other practices benefiting from that increased demand,” McNamara said.

Other practice areas to see growth

Gerber sees lots of positives in terms of law firms adapting to trends and strengthening core competencies but staying on top of trends can be a challenge.

Some bring increased demand in practice areas, requiring a high level of specialization, according to McNamara.

“We’re looking forward to the continuation of that trend,” he said.

Oliverio said with Hodgson Russ and others staying busy across a plethora of practice areas, they may be looking to other geographic areas that could be profitable.

So what do Western New York law firms predict will be the busiest practice areas in 2015? Here’s what they had to say:

  • Corporate governance and regulation — Gerber said those are big issues in times of corporate growth. “It’s almost as if regulators are becoming profit centers for government and clients are having to hire lawyers every day to respond,” he said.
  • Data privacy — Many firms try to strike a balance in this area, with transparency to the courts and in transactions as they attempt to manage the exponential growth of information with added capabilities and devices that generate more data and emails on a daily basis, Gerber said.
  • Health care — Marlette said Damon Morey continues to expand the geographic reach of its health care practice, including work in nursing homes, with individual physicians and in representing hospitals.
  • Insurance — With excess capital in the insurance fields, companies are eyeing portfolio transfers, Gerber said, as well as alternative products and investments.
  • Intellectual property — McNamara sees an uptick in this practice area, especially concerning the medical sector.
  • International trade regulations — Part of the highly specialized work that McNamara said he sees becoming more available in the marketplace.
  • Labor/employment — As the regulatory climate becomes more pro-employee, Kubarek said Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel has seen additional business in terms of representing employers. It’s been a hot spot for several years, he added.
  • Litigation — Marlette said it’s on the rise, a reflection of the improving corporate scene. Damon Morey also has seen an uptick in litigation work on a national scale, he said.
  • Tax — When appeal and corporate lawyers are busy, it’s a clear sign of a busy marketplace, according to Oliverio, referring to the projected growth in both tax law and litigation.
  • Trade secrets — As the economy continues to heat up, so does the increased focus on intellectual capital and ideas, Kubarek said. His firm makes sure businesses have protection in place to safeguard valuable information, especially if someone leaves a position. One trait of an improved economy is that people change jobs more often, he added.
  • Trusts and estates — With the death of former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, this became a hot topic. Wilson’s estate included the NFL franchise, which was put up for sale and eventually bought by Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. Wilson’s death shone a light on the practice area, and attorneys see it continuing to get attention in 2015.