Attorney Jim Rose was recently featured in a Daytona Beach News-Journal article on the state of the economy in the legal profession.
June 02, 2009
Attorneys work new strategies
By AUDREY PARENTE
Lawyers aren't impervious to the sagging economy, and many local attorneys have felt the pinch.
Among them, Ormond Beach attorney Greg Snell, has let some vacant positions go unfilled and has been shifting emphasis away from sluggish areas of practice.
Daytona Beach attorney Michael Pyle said he started noticing a reduction in real estate closings at his law firm even before the worst of the recession hit. While he's managed to avoid layoffs, some of his paralegal assistants have been moved from working on closings to other areas, such as creating limited liability company documents or working on land trust agreements.
And attorney Jim Rose said business at his Daytona Beach law firm slowed down as the economy slowed down.
Nationwide, more than 3,300 attorneys have lost their jobs so far this year, and more than 5,200 staffers were laid off during the first three months of 2009, according to the American Bar Association. That follows on the heels of 20,000 layoffs last year, a 66 percent jump from 2007, and a 10-year high, according to the Labor Department.
The Florida Bar Association polled its members on issues related to the economy and at least 44 percent of attorneys from ages 35 to 65 reported that during the past two years their business has gotten worse, and 63 percent of attorneys over age 65 said their business has worsened. More than 43 percent of all respondents said they expect a decreased profitability in the next two years due to the economy.
The volume of layoffs reported by ABA did slow during April, but at the same time, the New York City Bar Association offered career counseling services to attorneys. And the ABA introduced an Economic Recovery Resources Web Portal -- new.abanet.org/economicrecovery -- suggesting ways of coping.
"The economic downturn is having its effect on the careers of lawyers just as it is on so many professions," said ABA President H. Thomas Wells Jr. in a recent news release encouraging attorneys to take advantage of the tools the Web site offers. "The Economic Recovery Resources Web Portal complies with the ABA's vast resources for professional and personal development in a single online site."
A Volusia County Bar Association member, Snell said the way he manages is to keep a long-term perspective without being overly reactionary. He hasn't raised rates, but he hasn't lowered them either.
"Reducing rates really low just to drive business and losing money isn't smart," Snell said. He's been practicing for 25 years and has offices in Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Lake Mary and Orlando. "Getting into a highly competitive, low-rate practice area because there appears to be work in that area due to the economy, like bankruptcy, isn't necessarily smart."
He has been open to certain "billing adjustments," he said.
"While we're not a payment-plan place, we have agreed to allow some clients to pay us a certain amount of money monthly as we are doing the work," Snell said. "As long as they do that, then we're fine. Naturally, this is designed to keep them pretty much current all along, but it doesn't necessarily require as large of an advance as we might otherwise require."
His firm has made other adjustments over the past eight months, increasing work in areas he already practices, such as collections, and working with condominium and homeowner associations.
"We didn't do like some others and get into an entirely new practice areas. We're sticking to what we do well, business law.
Rose, a partner at Rice & Rose in Daytona Beach since 1986, said his law practice is no different than any other small business, and negative economics have domino effects.
"It used to be people would get divorces and one would buy out the other, but this has slowed down and people are living together," said Rose, a 1982 law graduate of the University of Florida. He is a member of the Florida Bar's family law, business law, real property, trust and probate sections. He also is an agent for First American Title Co. and Commonwealth Title Insurance Co. "And I used to incorporate people, but you don't see as many people going into new businesses."
Rose said the best thing right now is to keep his law practice "lean and mean," even down to "negotiating a better deal for office supplies."