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Legal News and Updates for January 2020: Law Firm Moves, Legal Industry Trends
Monday, January 27, 2020

Law firms and the businesses that surround them have hit the ground running in 2020, with tons of announcements, big moves by law firms and innovation across the entire field.  Read on for a small taste of some of the exciting developments in the legal industry.

Hiring and Law Firm Moves

Patent preparation and prosecution law firm, Harrity & Harrity, LLP recently announced the firm had added four new patent attorneys: Joseph Lentivech, Patrick Hansen, McCord Rayburn, and Bret Tingey; as well as two new law clerks: Sara Ko and Abigail Troy. 

Joseph Lentivech is based in Mobile, Alabama, and returns to Harrity & Harrity to practice after his service as an Administrative Patent Judge at the United States Patent Trademark Office (USPTO).  His practice focuses on the prosecution of patent applications in electrical and computer technologies, encompassing telecommunications and computer hardware and software.  Patrick Hansen will be based in the Raleigh office, and has experience representing petitioners and patent owners in post-grant proceedings, with specialization in patent applications for electrical, computer and mechanical technologies.  McCord Rayburn has international patent experience, coordinating inbound national state patent application filings for foreign corporations, and he will work out of the law firm’s Charlotte office.  Bret Tingey focuses on patent preparation and prosecution in mechanical and electrical technology, with extensive experience writing memos and briefs in IP litigation–including some submitted to the US Supreme Court–and he will be based in Raleigh.  Law Clerks Sora Ko and Abigail Troy both have experience in patent preparation and prosecution before the USPTO and will work out of Harrity & Harrity’s DC office.

Paul Harritiy, a partner in the firm, called the group “superstars” and says, “we are excited for this group to join our team and assist the firm in continuing to provide excellent customer service to our Patent 300 clients.”

Lipson Neilson started off 2020 by announcing it has added nationally-recognized Surety & Fidelity Law attorneys Phillip G. Alber, Jeffrey M. Frank, Omar J. Harb, and Jessica L. Wynn, all four previously with Alber Frank PC law firm. Alber will head up a new Lipson Neilson office in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Frank, Harb and Wynn will be based in the firm’s Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office. 

Jeffrey Neilson, a co-founder of the firm, says,  “They’re a tremendous and immediate asset to our firm in the area of Surety & Fidelity Law and bring significant expertise in other areas of law and litigation as well. I think their decision to move to Lipson Neilson is a good indication of our reputation, our work and our culture."

In a move that will strengthen the firm’s healthcare and corporate practices, Manatt announced that Paul A. Carr-Rollitt has joined as a healthcare partner in the Los Angeles office. Carr-Rollitt focuses his practice on corporate healthcare concerns, and his healthcare transaction experience includes mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, reorganizations, affiliations, public offerings, and private equity transactions.  His practice includes advising non-traditional and traditional health care entities, and his advice is legal, business-oriented, and incorporates strategy as well as policy concerns.  Bill Bernstein, the leader of Manatt Health, calls Carr-Rollitt a “perfect fit” with Manatt’s growing practice.  Bernstein says, “He brings with him an excellent roster of clients and has a national healthcare practice, which encompasses both payers and providers.”

On his end, Carr-Rollitt says Manatt’s blending of strategy with legal advice is an approach he’s always appreciated.  “I am excited to be part of a firm that has a strong understanding of and commitment to the future of the healthcare industry and to work with some of the most forward-thinking professionals from coast to coast,” he says.

Last week, Katten announced that Mitchel C. Pahl has joined its Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice as a partner in the New York office. Pahl’s practice concentrates on employee benefits and executive compensation in private and public company M&A’s.  He has also been involved in high-profile corporate transactions in a variety of industries including real estate, health care, and financial services.  Additionally, he has advised clients on the operation and design of qualified retirement plans, equity incentive plans, and other compensation arrangements, as well as on negotiating executive employment agreements and separation packages. 

Kate Ulrich Saracene, Katten partner and leader of the firm's Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice, praises Pahl’s decades of experience across complex transactions. "Mitch also brings new capabilities to Katten with his focus on qualified retirement plans, benefit plans for non-profits and experience working with ESOPs,” says Saracene. “With the addition of Mitch, we've achieved our goal of building a full-service employee benefits and executive compensation practice, able to advise any type of client on any type of plan or transaction."

Cornerstone Research started off 2020 by naming  Dr. Yesim C. Richardson as President.  In a departure for the organization, Richardson will share leadership with CEO Rahul Guha, who also took on his role on January 1, 2020.  The duo succeeds Michael E. Burton, who had served in both roles since July of 2014.

Yesim RIchardson Cornerstone Research
Yesim Richardson 

After a period of succession planning, the organization decided it made the most sense to divide the responsibilities of the CEO and President, and have two individuals fill those roles instead of combining them.  “At this stage in our history,” says Dr. Guha, “we believe splitting the CEO and president responsibilities ensures the most effective leadership structure for our future.” Prior to her appointment as President, Dr. Richardson served on Cornerstone Research’s board of directors, and has been active on firm governance committees.  In her new role as president, she will focus on talent strategies and service delivery, and continue to consult and support Cornerstone Research experts on litigation matters and other consulting questions.  “Cornerstone Research has always lived its values . . .we have been guided by our commitment to deliver top-quality work to our clients, provide exceptional support to our experts, and develop pathways to leadership for our outstanding staff,” says Richardson.  “We have enhanced the way we run the firm to support this commitment even more fully. I am proud and grateful to partner with Rahul as we look ahead to the continued growth and success of this extraordinary company.”

Porter Wright announced last week that Deb Boiarsky was promoted into the firm’s Chief Operating Partner position.  This development comes after the firm has grown, with two new offices and a 30-percent partner increase across the firm.  Boiarsky focuses her practice on employee benefits–specifically ERISA and IRS compliance–but in her role as the Chief Operating Partner, she will work with firm leadership to oversee day to day operations at the firm with an eye towards strategy and securing firm growth and development.   Bob Tannous, managing partner of Porter Wright and the former Chief Operating Partner, indicates that a business mentality is key to success in this role.  “Deb is known for being measured and considerate,” he points out, “and for fostering strong relationships in and outside of the firm.”

Law Firm Innovation and Developments

Kluk Farber, a female-founded law firm in New York and Los Angeles, has partnered with Vivvi Early Learning, a provider of employer-sponsored on and near-site child care, to provide children aged six weeks to five years access to near-site back-up care.  Vivvi has worked in a variety of industries with employers to provide childcare for employees, including hospitality, media, and advertising. Partnering with companies who understand childcare is a major pain point for their employees, and their solution can increase employee morale while lowering turnover and absenteeism.

Kluk Farber, already a progressive leader in the legal industry for providing flex-time and supporting work-life balance, entered into this partnership acknowledging that the way child care is traditionally set up is not ideal for working families. Agatha Kluk, a partner with Kluk Farber, says  “Being a female in law is not an easy feat to begin with, but having a family and achieving work-life integration? That’s nearly impossible,” she says.  “We learned of Vivvi’s transformational work through the NYC female founder community, and knew instantly that it was a resource we needed to integrate immediately.”  

Norton Rose Fulbright advised on the development and implementation of the world’s first consumer-ready digital fiat currency, assisting NZIA Limited to create the currency for the Central Bank of the Bahamas.  The currency, known as “Sand Dollars” is a central bank digital currency_or CBDC–and is part of Project Sand Dollar.  Sand Dollars will be issued by the state’s central bank, and are the same as legal tender, backed by the government and used by the public.  The currency went live in digital wallets in December of 2019 and was used locally immediately after, as local businesses were onboarded through banks and other financial institutions. Now, the sand dollars are basically, legally, the same as cash. 

The Bahamas was one of the first areas to develop a CBDC, and the island nation will benefit in a variety of ways; including inclusion in the financial system of unbanked and improved expenditure and tax systems. Norton Rose Fulbright Vancouver-based partner, John Kim, commented: “The innovative nature of Project Sand Dollar required us to provide equally innovative solutions to our client. Our input resulted in a system that would not only meet the requirements of current financial and regulatory regimes but actually leverage them to provide a CBDC solution that enables people to conduct more secure and instant transactions.”

Paige Justus
Paige Justus 

Fortis Law Partners will now offer legal guidance on estate planning practice, assisting clients with asset-protection strategies, gift planning, and tax reduction. Paige K. Justus, a senior corporate associate with the firm, will head the practice, which will also assist clients with wealth protection strategies, wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, guardian designations for minor children and healthcare declarations. Along with individual estate planning strategies, the estate planning practice group will work with nonprofits desirous of obtaining tax-exempt status assistance.

Legal Technology and Industry Developments

Embroker, Inc, a digital insurance company, announced the Lawyers’ Professional Liability platform, ideal for both large and small law practices. This platform allows law firms across a variety of sizes to secure and enroll in legal malpractice insurance quickly, efficiently and affordably. 

Embroker CEO Matt Miller says the new Embroker platform can leverage technology to improve a traditionally onerous process.   “They [attorneys] only have to spend a few minutes on each year and receive a quote from an A+ rated insurance provider,” Miller says. “By leveraging Embroker technology, our overhead is less intensive than the traditional decades-old model, and we are also able to provide lower rates that are going to be very attractive."

Embroker will target law firms with 1-10 attorneys nationally,  as these are traditionally most impacted by the onerous process of purchasing malpractice insurance without large staffs.  The platform is currently available in 31 states, with approval pending in other states as the product is offered nationwide. 

Lex Mundi recently released its Global M&A Trends Report, featuring insights from almost 70 Lex Mundi member firms from all over the world.  Each of these firms shared insights on mergers and acquisitions within their purview, focusing on key concerns facing M&A practitioners, deal activity by segment, and 2020 predictions.  The report indicated that due diligence and deal structure rank highly, with 18% and 14% of member firms respectively ranking those issues as major areas of concern.  Matters of cybersecurity and data privacy are spurring concerns in due diligence, as buyer companies are working to mitigate risk across cyber, anti-corruption, and data privacy. 

Despite global disruptions such as trade wars, Brexit, and economic instability, the majority of Lex Mundi Member firms (as much as 60%) indicated they expected M&A activity to remain the same in 2020; with the top industries such as energy and power, financial services, manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and life sciences seeing heavy activity.

Last week Jennifer Schaller moderated a panel at the 27th Annual Marketing Partner Forum in Miami, Florida on Client Journey Mapping for Law Firms.  In conjunction with the discussion on Client Journey Mapping, the National Law Review is conducting a survey on elements of client journey mapping, and we will be analyzing and writing up the results.  The survey is still open, so please consider taking a few minutes to add your insights.  All responses are completely confidential.

That’s it for now.  More to come as 2020 progresses!

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