2 min read June 2023 — Baker Donelson is one of the country’s largest law firms and provides commercial legal services from complicated commercial litigation to employment, real estate, bankruptcy, and financial services. Focus: spoke to Gary Barnes, managing shareholder, about the firm’s main areas of work, upcoming opportunities within the industry and its commitment to the community and pro-bono work.
What have been some highlights and milestones for Baker Donelson over the past year?
Primarily as an office and a firm, we’ve been returning to the office. We allow remote working, but on any given day, we have 80% of our people working in our various offices, which has been the latest development in the last year. We think it’s crucial to have in-person interaction, particularly for training and mentoring younger lawyers. On the business side, things have been active across the board. The prospect of inflation and the rise of the federal reserve interest rate might present a few challenges in certain areas of practice within the next six to 10 months. However, I haven’t noticed any significant slowdown in any particular areas.
We also continue to make strides in our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. In the past year, we achieved our third consecutive Mansfield Certification Plus status, were named to Bloomberg Law’s annual Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Framework for the second consecutive year, and were named a Compass Award winner by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. There is still much work to be done but we’re committed to doing it.
What is your analysis of the current state of the legal sector?
What I see is continued economic growth in Atlanta and the Southeast. I anticipate growth from existing clients and the addition of new clients, with a possible growth trajectory for the firm in the upcoming years. From an economic stance and how our firm will deal with any uncertainty, I think the lessons we’ve learned about remote work and the availability of virtual hearings and depositions will serve our clients well.
What distinguishes Baker Donelson from other firms in the industry?
What sets us apart is the high quality of delivering legal services. We become trusted advisors to our clients, and that is attributable in large part to the high level of satisfaction among our lawyers and staff. Creating a great workplace is essential to our ability to attract and retain the best talent, which allows us to provide the exceptional caliber of service our clients expect.
With regard to high-interest rates and inflation, how are you advising your clients in these matters?
It depends on the clients and on their area of business. We are guiding people to be strategic and think through everything before making an acquisition, taking out a loan to fund operations or an active acquisition, and maintaining cash reserves if available. This allows them to weather any difficult period and take advantage of opportunities presented by changes in the marketplace. For example, procuring struggling businesses or acquiring fixtures, equipment, or operations.
What have been the changes you’ve seen in the demand for the firm’s services?
Litigation in some areas is steady. In some other areas that are more state court based, which slowed down during the pandemic, the state courts have reopened, with jury trials and in-person hearings happening again. The demand for corporate and M&A transactions and commercial real estate, whether acquisition, sales, or financing, was compelling in the last year.
Baker Donelson commits to community and pro-bono work. Why is it vital for businesses like yours to continue to give back?
We’re part of a community, whether in the pro-bono activities of our lawyers or in the professional obligation of providing our expertise to individuals who typically might not be able to afford legal counsel. There’s a strong commitment through our Baker Cares Operation, where we support charitable organizations within each community.
Our firm chooses a particular area or organization to focus on for three years. Currently we’re focused on partnering with organizations in our communities to support programs that provide a path out of homelessness, particularly with women and children who might be displaced, providing shelter and training to help women get back into the workforce.
What are you seeing concerning cybersecurity risks?
There’s a never-ending assault that all businesses are under, including law firms, in having to protect their infrastructure and information. You’ve had to spend more time and money, whether as a law firm or business, protecting your information because people are trying to access and misuse that information. It has been an issue since the dawn of computers and the internet, but it seems to have taken on a new dimension. The massive amount of cyber insecurity currently is alarming.
What projects are you excited about pushing forward?
In February of this year, we launched a six-year strategic plan called Baker Vision 2028. It’s a way to grow our relationships with current clients while bringing in new clients, with a comprehensive approach that includes our lawyers and support staff.
What are the biggest challenges faced by Baker Donelson?
While we’ve been fortunate to add several new attorneys this year, it’s been challenging to find and retain quality young attorneys and support staff. This is reflective of the broader business community, where everyone’s having issues finding quality talent when needed. This is an ongoing challenge and might continue to be so in the future.
With the continuous growth in Atlanta, what do you hope stays the same about the legal sector?
Despite being a large city and legal community, there’s still a vast number of people you come across continually, especially within your particular practice areas. You see the same lawyers in different courtrooms, and I think there’s still congeniality that is great in Atlanta, which I’d like to preserve no matter how large we get.
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