Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — Raleigh-Durham is consolidating its standing as a highly attractive legal market. Matt Leerberg, office managing partner of Fox Rothschild’s Raleigh location, shares his expert insights on what the future holds for the Triangle’s legal landscape.
What shifts in the demand for or types of litigation have you been dealing with over the last year?
My own practice focuses on litigation and appeals. One of the things that is true about that sector is that it is neither cyclical nor countercyclical. People sue each other whether resources are plentiful or scarce. Litigation is always occurring.
What we did notice over the last year is that there were a couple of areas of law that slowed down for a period of time and then picked up after about three months and are running strong now. One example of that would be our mergers and acquisitions practice. During the pandemic, because courts in some jurisdictions were partially closed, some of the family law, commercial real estate, and landlord-tenant work temporarily paused. Our expectation is that it will pick up as the courts address the backlog.
In 2020, we noticed a significant demand for lawyers with knowledge of the broad landscape of government programs and mandates, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, the CARES Act and a multitude of regulations involving COVID-19 compliance. Our labor and employment attorneys and corporate attorneys were very busy serving their clients on a day-to-day basis, helping them keep up with those ever-shifting sands.
How do you expect the competitive landscape for legal firms to evolve in Raleigh?
A few years ago, we noticed an uptick in interest from successful national firms in establishing offices in Raleigh, hoping to compete in this market. At that time, I was in management at a regional firm that wanted to get ahead of that trend. We looked at a number of national firms, and ultimately selected Fox Rothschild as the best fit for us. We got ahead of what is going to be a continuing trend into the next five to 10 years.
We’ve also noticed an increase in the number of lawyers looking to relocate to the Triangle. It’s not uncommon for us to be contacted by lawyers from Chicago or Boston or other areas who, especially in the remote work environment, now realize that they do not necessarily need to live in those cities anymore. By joining a firm like Fox Rothschild that has a national footprint as well as a real presence here in North Carolina, they could come and live in Raleigh and practice for local clients or national clients anywhere. As anyone in the Triangle knows, this is one of the best places to live in the country.
How do you see the legal sector being involved in insurance and disaster coverage going forward?
Insurance coverage disputes arising from the pandemic will take years to move through the system. The legal industry has a special obligation here to help businesses navigate the economic recovery. Many businesses that have struggled through the pandemic are in desperate need of legal help, from simply navigating the statutory and regulatory framework of government recovery programs to obtaining the refinancing necessary to reorganize for a new normal. Other companies are well positioned and are looking for acquisition opportunities. Others are looking to be acquired. On the corporate side, M&A and financing practices are going to be strong in the next couple of years. On the flip side, you’re going to have entities that struggle with insolvency or bankruptcy issues. We never want that for any of our clients, but we also recognize that the bankruptcy process is one way that the legal profession can help clients in some industries that are trying to get back on their feet.
What are your top priorities for the firm in the near term?
One critical aspect of our firm’s practice is recognizing and adapting to the permanent changes that will grow out of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts will eventually get back to in-person proceedings. However, members of the judiciary are brainstorming how we can retain some of the flexibility offered by holding some proceedings such as simple hearings, remotely, which has opened up our courts and improved access to justice. The increased access has advanced the underlying themes that we want our judiciary to serve, whether through live streaming of trials or arguments to allowing clients with limited means to have their attorney show up remotely instead of driving three hours for a particular hearing. That shift will drive changes at law firms as well. A firm that refuses to adapt and requires every attorney to show up in person every day is a firm that is going to lose some of its talent. We are likely to find some sort of hybrid model as we think about this going forward.
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