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Law firms still seeing plenty of work, metro Jackson lawyers say

Downturn not a problem for one segment of business community

JACKSON — The downturn in the economy has caused a lot of headaches for much of the business community, but for at least one segment it has not caused much of a stir.

Law firms are still having just as much business as they ever were in metro Jackson, possibly even more so.

Mike MacInnis, partner with Rimmer, Rawlings, MacInnis & Hedglin, PA feels fortunate that his firm hasn’t felt the impact of the economy.

“I think our city is fairly insulated from some of the economic woes of the rest of the state to a certain extent,” he said.

Jeff Rawlings, another partner of the firm, agreed.“I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “It seems when the money starts drying up people start litigating more. It’s dramatically increased because of the poor economy.”

Rawlings added that he thinks Mississippi seems to be the last to adjust to an up or downturn in the economy. “The roller coaster seems to be a lot smoother,” he said.

And Rawlings does not suspect the rest of the legal community is any different from his firm.

“I haven’t seen any downturns in any segment of the legal community here,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is that highly specialized here that they could be devastated by the downturn.”

Bill Jones, managing partner of the Jackson office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, has been practicing law in Mississippi since 1973. He believes that harder economic times increase litigation.

“I don’t know that there’s any study out there that supports (that idea) but it’s been our observation that it’s true,” he said. “We’ve really seen an increase particularly in product liability defense for auto manufacturers, the tobacco industry and the construction industry.”

And as far as corporate tax law is concerned, Jones has not seen much of a slowdown in that area either.

“That’s pretty much true of all our offices in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, D.C. and Beijing,” he said.

In fact, Jones said his firm is doing so well that lately they have had to hire more lawyers. “This office in the last few months has grown by seven or eight new lawyers and we expect to add more to cover the demand,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Jones said it would depend on the nature of the business of the law firms in town as to whether or not they’ve really felt the impact of harder economic times in the state. Some firms may be seeing a bigger drop-off in work compared to other firms that are more diversified.

But for Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, everything seems to be dictating growth. And in order to keep that growth steady they are hiring more lawyers to keep things from falling through the cracks.

“I don’t think a situation that would dictate layoffs is anywhere close at this point, but who knows?”

The strategic plan of Jones’ law firm is to continue to grow and diversify in different markets and in different practice areas.

Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC was founded in 1954 in Jackson when two predecessor firms merged. Today the firm has offices on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Memphis and in Washington, D.C.

Stephen Rosenblatt, the firm’s chairman, said he has not seen adverse affects of the economy on his firm.

“Of course all the litigation in Mississippi has been very positive for the firms,” he noted.

On the business side, Rosenblatt said his firm has not seen a slowdown in recent months either. The biggest effect on his firm occurred when Mississippi companies sold to out-of-state concerns.

“What we’ve done is gone out and moved a lot of our business practices to entrepreneurial high-tech startup businesses so we start that cycle again,” he said. And of course, the firm is still serving older, more established companies as well.

As to why there is a large amount of litigation ongoing in the state, Rosenblatt had this to offer: “I think there are some jurisdictions in Mississippi and rulings in some courts that lead to more lawsuits in Mississippi. Some of the larger verdicts that have come down in Mississippi in recent years have drawn lawsuits to the state that otherwise wouldn’t have been filed here.

“Frankly, the economy always ebbs and flows and we try to help them take defensive steps if their business is slowing down, but a lot of clients see the opportunity (now) to grow and expand.”

Like many firms in metro Jackson, Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada is growing.

“While we’ll always have a solid base of local businesses as clients, it seems we’re doing more on the regional and national level and that will be a trend we’ll continue as well,” Rosenblatt said. “We’ve found, as in a lot of other businesses, that there are a lot of law firms in Mississippi and we think we’re particularly situated in that expertise, and now have the size and depth to serve a number of different companies.”

Alveno Castilla, chairman of Watkins, Ludlam, Winter & Stennis, PA in Jackson, said business at his firm is great as well.

“I know there’s been a lot of talk about the downturn in the economy and there have been sporadic economic indicators that show some national downturns,” he said. “But fortunately our clients are doing well and they continue to call on us to help them with a wide variety of business and litigation matters. We do a lot of business deals and we really have not seen a downturn in the number of transactions that we traditionally handle, which is good.”

Business deals spawn business litigation, Castilla said, and he has seen deals continue for many of his clients.

“We are fortunate to have a diverse practice and that helps so that if the economy does take a turn for the worst in a significant way, our strategy is to have the diverse practice that will enable us to continue to thrive as a law firm. We fortunately don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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