2 min read January 2022 — Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP is a transatlantic law firm serving corporate, individual, and nonprofit clients across every business sector. In an interview with Invest:, Charlotte Office Managing Partner Clark Goodman discussed key successes, shifts caused by the pandemic, concerns, priorities and his outlook for the next few years.
What have been some key successes for Womble Bond Dickinson during the past year?
There are two categories: organizational success and client success. For our clients, we’ve had victories in a number of areas, including key successes in economic development, business transactions, and intellectual property and antitrust litigation. Our priorities are always going to be dictated by the services that our clients need to grow their businesses and mitigate their business risks.
In terms of our organizational successes, we have adapted to the changing circumstances posed by the pandemic and found ways to work differently. The need to work remotely during the pandemic has greatly accelerated a number of changes that we previously expected to implement over a much longer period of time. An obvious example has been the development of a fresh perspective on our office space utilization and needs. We are reconsidering our lease as we get into renewal windows, which allows us to ask ourselves how our space is going to look going forward and how we ensure that we maximize the value of our real estate spending and capital expenditures.
We are proud of how successfully our firm has transitioned to a remote working environment, but it can’t stay exactly like this forever. Practicing law in a large firm is a collaborative exercise, and finding the right balance between the flexibility of remote work and the benefits of working together as teams will dictate how we can continue to evolve in a post-pandemic economy. Client needs and expectations will, of course, be the ultimate deciding factor in how and where we work. Our ability to adapt over the last 18 months tells us that we can adjust to meet those expectations on a team-by-team and office-to-office basis.
How have clients been impacted by the pandemic?
In the early weeks of the pandemic, clients needed help dealing with the immediate and wide-ranging changes to how all of us were doing business. The world changed seemingly overnight, and companies had to pivot quickly. We worked with our clients to navigate those urgent needs.
However, companies have made those adjustments—in many cases, highly successfully. I think clients now are focused on growth and longer-range priorities once again. And we are right there with them, working to help them achieve their business goals.
What have been some of the shifts in demand for legal services?
As we approach the end of 2021 there is a lot of transactional demand because many deals were put on hold during the pandemic. There is a backlog of deals and there is a bit of catching up to do, so there is a bit of a rush to get this done before the next year to avoid tax uncertainty and issues related to budget cycles. The same is true for some commercial real estate and litigation services, particularly in the financial services sector where a significant amount of litigation and workout activity has been stalled by government moratoria brought things to a standstill. The demand for legal services related to Intellectual Property does not seem to have been affected in the same way. In some respects, the increased demand in certain information technology and biotechnology sectors increased the demand for IP services.
What have been some of the key concerns from clients facing the pandemic?
The concerns for our clients—like most business—have evolved over the course of the last 18 months. Initially, for many businesses the concerns were existential—figuring out how to continue operating at a sustainable level in the face of great uncertainty. Then there were concerns arising directly out of the pandemic, such as workplace safety and PPP-related work. Ultimately, most of our clients figured out how to continue working through the pandemic, and while our means of communicating and meeting have evolved, what they need and what they expect from us is largely the same. As we look ahead to a time when the greatest pandemic-related restrictions are behind us, we are now starting to see a new set of concerns related to clearing backlogs of demand—in transactions, enforcement, and litigation—that have built up during the pandemic and developing business strategies for a post-pandemic economy.
What is your general outlook for the legal sector for the next few years?
My outlook and expectations are generally positive, particularly looking across all of the markets where our offices are located. We are spread like a horseshoe through Northern California to Southern California, into Texas and then up through the Southeast from Georgia and to the mid-Atlantic to D.C. and up into Delaware and Boston. These are all markets that are attracting businesses and experiencing growth.
We also expect 2022 to be a year of growth for our firm. We have plans to do so, and we have many reasons to be optimistic that we (and our clients) can build on our success in 2021 as we emerge from the pandemic. Though the economy is facing some obvious challenges, such as disruptions in the supply chain, the increased cost of goods and services, and looming increases in interest rates, there are also many growth opportunities—particularly in markets like Charlotte that continue to attract new businesses in prosperous sectors such as technology, financial services, and health care. .
Law firms are seeing a lot of growth, consolidation and aggregation at a level that was uncommon in the industry five to 10 years ago. Certain legal services are increasingly commoditized in the sense that there is a lot of competition, and that creates some challenges in learning how to manage practices properly. We are also seeing competition for talent in some of our markets in a way that was nearly unthinkable pre-pandemic. Firms are competing for talent in markets where they don’t even have offices, because the prevalence of remote work has made it viable to hire talented attorneys outside of a firm’s geographic footprint and allow them work remotely.
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