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Economic woes mean boom time for lawyers

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times / October 31, 2008
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LOS ANGELES - The loose-leaf binders on Beverly Hills attorney Paul Kiesel's shelves contain hundreds of stories alleging deception, loss, and heartache.

Kiesel is representing struggling homeowners who say they were misled about the terms of their mortgages. He is far from the only lawyer finding himself busy these days as a result of the hard economic times.

In addition to lawyers suing lenders, there are others providing counsel for companies that are downsizing or have been pushed into bankruptcy. Others are representing clients in fraud lawsuits against banks and Wall Street investment firms.

And there are lawyers guiding banks and others seeking a piece of the $700 billion government bailout for the financial system.

The country may be slipping into recession, but it's shaping up to be boom time for lawyers.

"From here on out, we're going to see huge opportunity as credit fans out and everyone tries to use the tools available from recent legislation," said Karen Garrett, a lawyer in Kansas City.

The bailout legislation also includes new rules on executive compensation that will create even more work for lawyers, said Scott Sinder, head of Steptoe & Johnson's government affairs and public policy practice in Washington.

In this year's Litigation Trends Survey by the international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski, 43 percent of corporate counsel surveyed said they expected an upswing in lawsuits, largely spurred by the economic crises.

But Michael B. Dorff, associate dean and law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, sounds a more cautionary note about the financial future for law firms, noting lawyers may be facing tougher times.

"If you look industrywide, the recession is going to hurt lawyers more than any kind of benefit they would derive from the legal work," he said.

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