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Legal Industry Trends for November 2019: Law Firm News, Diversity Awards and Legal Technology Updates
Monday, November 18, 2019

As we march on to the end of 2019 and into the holiday season, the legal industry continues to buzz with constant development and innovation.  Read on to learn about a few of the highlights happening in law firms across the United States, legal technology developments that are changing the way law is practiced, and things to anticipate in 2020.

Law Firm Developments, Hires and Moves

Buchalter recently announced the formation of a new Cannabis & Hemp Industry Law Group  This, in many ways, is formalizing a group that has been operating for several years. In 2013, it all began when a client of the firm was tasked with operating a medical cannabis collective.  Since then, the group has expanded to over 100 clients in the industry utilizing over twenty-five lawyers across each of its practice groups, demonstrating the broad reach of the cannabis industry.  Building on those early experiences, Buchalter’s Cannabis & Hemp Industry law group will assist businesses in the industry across a variety of areas, including intellectual property, tax, real estate and financing.  Oren Bitan, Shareholder in the LA office will co-chair the group with Martin P. Florman, Managing Shareholder of the Orange County office.  Florman says, “We anticipate significant growth of this industry over the next decade while we continue to offer clients unparalleled expertise in distressed assets, banking and the Bank Secrecy Act, and real estate related concerns in this rapidly evolving industry.”

Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, in Denver, Colorado announced the addition of four associates Omeed M. Azmoudeh (Trial Department); Stephanie Block-Guedez (Finance & Acquisitions Department); Molly Kokesh (Trial Department); and Rob McCary (Finance & Acquisitions Department).  These additions will bolster the firm’s litigation and finance and acquisitions department, and two of the associates, Azmoudeh and McCary, were formerly summer associates at the firm.

Jeff Cody Norton Rose Fulbright
Jeff Cody of Norton Rose Fulbright

Norton Rose & Fulbright recently announced the election of Jeff Cody as its U.S. Managing Partner, effective Jan. 1, 2020.  Cody will also serve as Chair of the U.S. Management Committee.  The outgoing managing partner, Daryl Lansdale, says: “Jeff has a passion for our firm, its people and our clients. Our partnership has the utmost confidence in Jeff to provide leadership and vision during a time of change and innovation in the legal profession.”

Cody has been a partner with the firm since 2001, and is based in Norton Rose’s Dallas office.  He has significant experience in complex commercial disputes in healthcare, financial and information technology industries; specifically healthcare reimbursement matters, complex stock and asset purchase and sale agreements, and information systems development projects.  Cody: “I am proud and honored to be entrusted by my partners with this leadership responsibility. I am confident in the firm and optimistic about our future in this dynamic legal landscape. With leading lawyers across the U.S. and around the world, we stand committed to delivering a superior client experience with high-quality and high-value legal advice.”

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP announced that digital health regulatory advisor Yarmela Pavlovic will join the firm as a partner in its Health and Digital and Technology Groups. Yarmela has extensive experience working with digital health, software as a medical device and assisting life sciences companies as they navigate the FDA approval process. Lisa Suennen, who leads Manatt’s Digital and Technology practice, says: “Healthcare products and services companies at the intersection of technology and health are facing increasingly complex and rapidly changing regulatory processes, requiring expert counsel to plan and engage with the regulatory bodies that make it possible for high-quality health innovations to come to market. Yarmela’s experience will be a tremendous value-add to our already significant capabilities in the digital realm.”  Pavlovic, who describes her work as  “a mix of legal and consulting” is excited to join Manatt, and says: “Manatt is the ideal next step in the growth of my practice and will help me provide an even wider array of capabilities to both startups and large companies that engage with the FDA.”

Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP recently announced the hiring of Phillip A. Casey to co-chair Calfee’s Public Utility Regulatory practice group.  Casey has more than 25 years of experience in energy law focusing on public utilities, both in house and within a law firm.  His experience includes economic regulatory matters, corporate governance, new entrant certification, and regulatory strategies across jurisdictions.  Additionally, he has incident response experience and major litigation management in this field.  Casey calls Calfee’s energy practice “an incredibly talented group of experienced attorneys” and he says, “I look forward to demonstrating Calfee’s capabilities and leadership beyond Ohio and throughout the Midwest in this new role.”

Law Firm Awards, Recognition and Achievements

Benchmark Litigation, designed to feed the need for specialized study in the labor and employment practice area, provides rankings based on law firm questionnaires, peer review interviews and client reviews.  The publication recently announced its second annual Labor and Employment guide and included three attorneys from Ward & Smith as “Labor and Employment” Stars: Ken Gray, Will Oden, and Devon Williams.  Oden and Williams lead the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice and the firm’s Labor and Employment practice, respectively.  Gray focuses his practice on employment-related litigation, advising clients from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies on breach of employment contracts, employment discrimination and wrongful discharge matters. 

Ballard Spahr was recently named the "Law Firm of the Year" recognition for Litigation – First Amendment in 2020 Best Law Firms by U.S. News & World Report. This was on top of the 25 National Tier 1 rankings the firm achieved across a variety of areas, and especially noteworthy as only one law firm per legal practice earns that designation.  Firm Chair Mark Stewart sees the award rankings as evidence of the success of the firm’s efforts to grow nationally in depth and experience.  Stewart: “By executing our plan to expand thoughtfully and strategically, and keeping our focus on legal excellence and client value, we are serving more clients better than ever before."

Jeff White Robinson Cole
Jeff White of Robinson Cole

Jeff White of Robinson Cole was recently named a  “New England Trailblazer” in the inaugural list by Law.com and Connecticut Law Tribune for demonstrating an ability to “move the needle in the legal industry.”  White, the chair of Robinson Cole’s Manufacturing Industry Practice, has significant experience on national and international issues related to the manufacturing industry, and this recognition is further evidence of his understanding of the challenges and need for change in some areas facing the industry. White: “With technological advances driving the boom in manufacturing, we need to continue to innovate in the kinds of things we're focusing on. Our job as lawyers is to stay on top of these developments, because they're going to have major implications that manufacturers deal with going forward.” 

Under White’s leadership of Robinson Cole’s Manufacturing practice group, the group has risen to prominence as a leader in the field.  One of his signature achievements was the creation of the  Manufacturing Law Blog, which focuses on issues related to manufacturing rather than casting a wider, more business in general, net. In further recognition of his leadership in the manufacturing industry, in May of 2019 Robinson+Cole was recognized with the President’s “E” Award for Export Service by the United States Secretary of Commerce. The “E” award, established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 is the highest recognition any U.S. entity can receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of U.S. exports. Robinson+Cole was the only law firm in the country to receive the honor in 2019.

Law Firm Diversity Recognition

The law firm of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner was recognized for its long-standing commitment to diversity by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, or LCLD.  The organization named the firm a 2019 Top Performer and a 2019 Compass Award winner, one of only 21 member organizations that earned both designations this year. The awards indicate a participation in the organization’s programs, such as the Fellows and Pathfinder programs, as well as at least one pipeline program (Mentoring or 1L Scholars).

Bryan Cave is a long-standing member of LCLD, having been a member since the organization began.  BCLP participates in the organization’s Fellows and Pathfinder programs, as well as the 1L LCLD Scholars Program and the LCLD Success in Law School Mentoring Program. The recognition came recently at LCLD’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

In more good news about legal industry diversity,  the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance recognized fifty-one law firms for having a partner class in 2019 comprised of 50% or more female partners.  These firms “tipped the scales” and were identified in the New Partner Report.  The Report, a compilation of publicly available information and reported sources, revealed that 41.3 percent of new partners in 138 major U.S. law firms in 2019 were women, an increase of just over 2% from 2018.  As well as the annual increase, the New Partner Report showed that women promoted to partnership is on an upswing overall, with an 8.1% increase since 2012, and more firms across the board are promoting partner classes that are more than 50% women, showing a trend towards “tipping the scales.”  Click here for a full list of firms that were recognized for their 2019 Partner Class.

Law Firm Accomplishments and Deals

Sherin and Lodgen’s Renewable Energy Team represented Cambridge Savings Bank in developing a portfolio construction bridge and term loan for three ground-mounted solar facilities in Massachusetts.  The project, built by Kearsarge Energy, will generate 8.8 MW of energy and features a 1.6 MW advanced technology battery storage component and will be one of the first to be implemented under the SMART program.  The battery storage component is especially exciting, as industry analysts think this type of storage has the power to transform the renewable energy development and distribution in the near future.  Sherin and Lodgen’s renewable team was led by Bethany A. Bartlett, renewable energy chair, and  Colleen V. Collins, of counsel, and Tyler N. Ballew, and included syndicate partners Eastern Bank and Middlesex Savings Bank.

Global law firm DLA Piper represented  SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and SunTrust Bank in closing of U.S. $60 million credit facility for Electric Entertainment.  Electric Entertainment is a LA based production company founded by Dean Devlin.  Devlin is a well-known producer, whose credits include films such as Stargate and Independence Day, and television series like The Librarian and Leverage.  The credit facility will finance upcoming projects on WGN and the CW, and develop other film and television projects. The DLA Piper team representing SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and SunTrust Bank was led by partner Tom Ara, co-chair of the firm's Entertainment Transactions and Finance practices, and included partner Afshin Beyzaee and associates Greg Young, Payvand Coyle and Rahul Sajnani (all of Los Angeles).

Looking at Pro-Bono work, during National Pro Bono Week in the United Kingdom, and Hogan Lovells ranked number one in Legal Week’s survey for the firm’s pro bono efforts in the UK.  The firm did a total of 27,704 pro bono hours in the UK for 2018, and the publication also recognized the firm’s contribution to a variety of projects, including the Westminster and London Bridge inquests.  Yasmin Waljee, International Pro Bono Director of Hogan Lovells called the recognition “fantastic.”  She said: " It is not the hours of pro bono that matter but the remarkable impact of the work undertaken by all the firms listed and those that were not."

Legal Industry Trends, Research and Upcoming Events

Legal Technology company InCloudCounsel announced two new software automation enhancements powered by proprietary research in AI and machine learning.  The developments are an Automated initial contract review; that automatically scans and flags clauses that conflict with negotiation requirements, helping to ease the negotiation stage and expedite the review process.  The next piece comes into play when negotiation is finished--an AI-powered scorecard creates an abstract summary of key terms in the agreement, scanning the final agreement identifying the key terms in the common clauses.  These tools were developed with InCloudCounsel’s proprietary technology, and assist attorneys in working more efficiently and accurately, maximizing their efforts to deliver legal services to their clients. 

Hadayat Seddiqi, led the innovation process in his role as director of machine learning at InCloudCounsel.  Hadayat’s resume includes work on space exploration robots at NASA, quantum computing at the Department of Energy and DNA sequencing software with a biotech startup. He says,  “Our artificial intelligence models bring valuable tools to a field that historically has been very difficult to build similar solutions for.  Our models are understanding increasingly complex abstract language and concepts – allowing our proprietary AI to automate a growing number of narrow tasks.” 

The Legal Marketing Association released its agenda for the organization’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado on March 25 -March 27, 2020.  The committee putting the conference together, led by Kristen Bateman Leis of Parker Poe and Jonathan Mattson of BakerHostetler LLP, have put together an agenda focused around the organization’s body of knowledge, with an emphasis on wellness and mental health.  The keynote speaker, Baratunde Thurston, a comedian, writer and cultural critic whose resume includes work with the satirical Onion, advisor to the Obama White House and work on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Future Marketing Insights recently released a new intelligence report, projecting that legal transcription investments will increase, and those investments will focus on automation of legal transcription services.  The demand for legal transcription solutions is global, and accounts for revenues worth 3 billion, indicated by the FMI insights report.  This is anticipated to grow at a Compound annual growth rate of  ~6% for the next ten years.  The report indicated a heavy investment in legal tech startups in Asia Pacific, driving innovation.  Additionally, new and improved Automation and Machine Learning technologies, coupled with Natural Language Processing are expected to fuel growth. Challenges include diverse pricing models and legal formats, and customers are demanding predictability and pricing consistency.  The market is fragmented and major players are still jockeying for regional dominance--and focusing on innovation, to make the most of the technologies available.

That’s what we’ve got for now.  Stay warm and enjoy the upcoming Holiday Season!

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