Squire, Sanders and Dempsey
What impact has the current recession had on the legal profession?
With the credit markets being down as much as they were this time around, the flow of corporate legal business was definitely affected more than in past recessions. A lot of people view law firms as recession proof, and to some extent some of the practice areas within a law firm are recession proof. Litigation, for example, seems to go on and on whether there is a recession or not, and that is in fact happening now in our firm. But this time around, the corporate group was affected much more than in the past and that has caused different challenges.
Do you foresee any long-term changes in how law firms conduct the business side of their operations as a result of the economic crisis?
It’s been a wake-up call for the law profession … I think there was a complacency that had developed among law firms about how carefully they had to watch developing trends. But I think this has been a good wake-up call, so I think you’ll find law firms staying more conscious of staffing and not trying to get too far ahead in staffing; maybe slightly curtailing the kinds of lead hiring we used to do. We hire every year out of law school. We’re having in Phoenix six new lawyers joining us out of the class of 2009.
They were originally scheduled to arrive in October. We’ve deferred that arrival to January of 2010. I think you’ve probably seen in the paper a number of other moves by other law firms, some taking different forms of action. … I think you’ll see tinkering here and there. I don’t think you’ll see vast changes in the way we do things, but we’re looking at it. We’re looking at it on a monthly basis, checking the numbers, trying to see if we see a trend in one practice area or another.
You have represented the city of Phoenix in its dealings with developers of its downtown mixed-use complex. How would you describe the evolution of Downtown Phoenix from a governmental and legislative aspect?
The change in 30 years has just been remarkable. It’s great. … During the course of 30 years, we got a bill passed that established economic development as a major public purpose in Arizona, which has significant implications in that we feel it probably was the turning point in permitting condemnation for economic development purposes, a subject which is not popular in all sectors of the economy. But certainly there were instances where a single property owner could hold up an entire, major, new downtown development, and the governmental units simply had to have a way of dealing with that. Condemnation was one of them and we’re pleased about that. But there’s a new challenge, actually, to the subsidies that cities have made available to developers, both downtown and in other kinds of zones that are created for economic development. The (state) court of appeals has just thrown out part of the subsidy the city of Phoenix gave to CityNorth. Whether that goes to the Arizona Supreme Court depends on the Supreme Court.
For years, we were operating under another court of appeals case, known as the Wistuber case, and I always thought it struck a very good balance between hard consideration and soft consideration on what cities were getting for their subsidies. The problem is that the Arizona constitution has a gift clause in it, which says public bodies can’t give away their money to private interests without getting value back for that money. TheWistuber case made it clear that you could look at things like increased tax revenues and improving job availability, but you also had to have some hard considerations for what you were spending your money on. I always thought that was a great balance. We’ll see how this comes out.
Given the current economic climate, what changes have you made to future workforce planning?
I think law firms will stay closer to the break-even point on need, on staff. We had the luxury of delaying responses to ups and downs in the economy in the past. Law firms are being much more conscious today of the cost of legal services to clients. Even the largest corporations are getting our attention in terms of trying to give them the very best service we can for the lowest cost. So we’re going to pay a lot more attention, probably, to having balanced legal teams in terms of experience level. For example, on a typical corporate transaction or litigation matter, we will probably pay a lot more attention to what the blended hourly rate would be if you looked at all the people who are working on the account.
- Vital Stats
- Started with Squire, Sanders and Dempsey in 1966
- Opened Phoenix office in 1979
- Listed in the 2009 edition of “The Best Lawyers in America”
- Selected for inclusion in the 2007 inaugural edition of “Southwest Super Lawyers”
- Designated a Center of Influence by Arizona Business Magazine in 2008
- Received law degree from Case Western Reserve University
- Works with the Arizona Business Coalition, the Arizona Justice Foundation and the Phoenix Community Alliance