Legal Outlook: 2017 Is a Year of Dramatic Opportunity

By LaneReport.com Staff

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An increasingly optimistic Kentucky legal community is seeing growth for 2017 and has put out the “Hiring” sign. The recent elections have brought into office administrations considered more business friendly, which should increase activity; public officials are also making policy changes that are changing the tax, regulatory and operational environment, which will generate more demand for legal services.

“Innovation and global exports” are not the usual buzz words law firm leaders associate with mainstream Kentucky business sectors. Several key industries here are fueling the economy and shifting the legal landscape for the next five years. Positive indicators for economic stability and sustained legal work are stemming from healthcare, aerospace, commercial real estate and construction, chemical engineering and automotive manufacturing. Healthcare and manufacturing are creating new practice areas and hiring trends that impact the way legal services are provided. Businesses are shifting their legal purchasing patterns. The “Future Trends for Legal Services 2016” report by Deloitte said 52 percent of in-house legal departments are considering buying legal services from non-traditional law firms this year. Law firms must focus on innovation and carefully consider how competitive forces will affect the way we serve clients and keep pace with growing companies.” — Robert Duncan, Managing Member, Jackson Kelly PLLC

“With a Republican administration and control of both houses of Congress, there is an opportunity for effective legislating. We are witnessing a reshaping of major manufacturing attitudes; GM disclosed its intention to add 5,000 workers, and Ford changed focus from Mexico to the U.S. Expect incentives for re-patriating offshore cash, which must then be invested, likely into R&D/employment. Healthcare funding is a primary concern as gerrymandering the ACA will frustrate us all, from individual insurance to Medicare. If we are not a healthy workforce, the number of jobs will be irrelevant. The “internet of things” is changing the tech sector forever. The prediction is within three years we will see effective interconnection of most aspects of our lives, from self-driven electric cars to interfacing home and work. We in eldercare will witness new strategies within IoT that open new methods for care, such as robotics and communication from patients. ” — Robert L. McClelland Attorney, ElderLaw Lexington

“The legal sector once again is in a period of great growth as we enter 2017, and McBrayer is expanding to capitalize on those sectors that are in flux. New administrations and majorities in Frankfort and Washington will bring a host of new ideas such as right-to-work legislation and an overhaul of the healthcare system, and we have been enhancing our team to meet the ever-changing needs of our clients. For instance, we have bolstered our practices in the areas of tax law, corporate law and employment law as preferential market and legislative conditions portend a resurgence of entrepreneurial activity. Our firm expects new faces, new ideas and new challenges as we face the new year, ready to work.” — James H. Frazier III Managing Member, McBrayer McGinnis Leslie & Kirkland PLLC

“In 2017, it is expected that the legal industry will experience measured growth as the economy as a whole is expected to improve and continue the move towards recovery from the recession. Many predict the United States’ GDP will expand by roughly 2.1 percent this year. This continues a trend of slow, sustained growth over the past several years. Firms, after a long period of either contraction or stagnation in employment levels, are beginning to moderately increase hiring due to higher demand for legal work. This response by law firms to the need for additional legal services signals the job market and the entire industry are returning to a healthier, more stable position that should be maintained through the end of 2017 and beyond.” — Richard W. Edwards Managing Partner, Boehl Stopher & Graves LLP 

“The second half of 2016 was an extremely busy period for our clients, who are largely concentrated in commercial real estate, lending, finance, healthcare, and small/medium-size business. We continue to see consistent and meaningful increases in areas like: commercial real estate acquisition, development, and financing; federal and state-sponsored tax-credit projects (such as urban historic redevelopments and low-income housing); and internal and external business expansion and reorganization. It appears that 2017 will extend that productive business climate, particularly for businesses with strong balance sheets and talented management, thanks in part to increased confidence resulting from continued low interest rates and optimism about reduced regulation.” — Scott Townsend Member, Vice Cox & Townsend PLLC

“Over the past several years, the Bluegrass region has seen an entrepreneurial explosion. New businesses are opening their doors throughout Lexington and surrounding counties, providing a wealth of new products and services. This growth has another, less obvious benefit: It challenges existing companies to take a fresh look at their business models and to provide their clients with innovative solutions and unparalleled value. Today’s legal consumer expects high-quality work and rapid response for a realistic cost. In response, Fowler Bell is tapping both electronic and digital media to better serve, and better reach, our clients. The result is a more streamlined, receptive model that is poised to provide strong legal support to new and established businesses.” — Taft A. McKinstry Managing Member, Fowler Bell PLLC

“As the Bevin administration enters year two and Trump’s begins, Kentucky businesses anticipate government initiatives that create a more business-friendly environment. The passage of right-to-work, repeal of the prevailing wage, and proposed liability reform will alter the legal services landscape. Positive changes for energy companies could increase their legal needs. The upswing in manufacturing, construction and healthcare, regardless of the viability of the Affordable Care Act, will drive legal work in Kentucky. Technology developments in cybersecurity, social media, drones and self-driving vehicles present opportunities and challenges for law firms. It is imperative that businesses stay abreast of these dramatic developments throughout 2017. Partnering with lawyers who monitor such issues assures timely updates, informed counsel and successful outcomes.” — Bonita Black Office Managing Member, Steptoe & Johnson

“The transition to a new administration in Washington is resulting in changes that will impact the economy, businesses and individuals. It still is difficult to accurately predict just what those impacts will be, but it is clear there will be dramatic change to regulatory programs that could affect a range of industries from financial institutions, to manufacturers, to natural resource and energy companies. Significant overhaul of tax law is also possible, which could present challenges as well as opportunities for businesses and individuals. It will be even more important than usual to remain informed and flexible. We work hard to keep abreast of developments as they occur, and help our clients position themselves to find solutions to challenges and take vantage of opportunities.” — Chauncey S.R. Curtz Natural Resources Group Chair & Lexington Office Managing Partner, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP

“Heading into 2017, buoyed by the construction activity in Louisville and the completion of the (new Ohio River) bridges, we remain cautiously optimistic about Kentucky’s economy. At Wyatt, we see strength in healthcare, financial institutions and real estate, sectors where many of our lawyers focus their work. Our family business and entrepreneurial clients remain dedicated to our communities and continue to make significant investments in the future. We are excited by the extraordinary talent and energy we see in young professionals across our commonwealth, including the young lawyers in our firm. Long term, education remains the only viable solution for increasing opportunity in Kentucky. We must make improving our schools and universities our top priority.” — Franklin K. Jelsma Managing Partner, Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP 

“Stites & Harbison anticipates a strong 2017 for the legal industry as we are seeing an uptick in class-action litigation, data security and privacy compliance and litigation, and employment matters. With the change in administrations, we anticipate businesses needing assistance relative to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and there will be a greater need from clients to help understand and comply with the regulatory changes impacting their business – even if it means less regulation than the prior administration. We also are seeing a continuing trend of law firm mergers taking place across the country and around the world. We anticipate the growth of law firms through merger or acquisition to continue as well.” — Robert M. Connolly Chair, Stites & Harbison PLLC

“We continue to see growth across all sectors of our business, driven primarily by our willingness to enter into alternative fee arrangements that align our interests with those of our clients, instead of simply rewarding us for billable hours with no value. Our clients like the fact we share their risk, whether in a transactional matter or litigation, and as a result, they see our law firm as a center of efficiency, operating like an Olympic swimmer – there are no wasted strokes.” — Mason L. Miller Managing Partner, Miller Wells PLLC

“It is difficult to overstate the transformative nature of the state and national elections results last November. The likelihood of fundamental change in the relationship between government and business presents huge opportunities for Stoll Keenon Ogden’s clients in every economic sector, including aluminum production, automotive, banking, distilled spirits, equine, healthcare, information technology, public utilities and, especially, energy. The sudden, dramatic political changes may result in some period of political instability but will also lead to sudden, dramatic opportunities. SKO is extremely well-positioned to help shape a new legal era and to anticipate and help our clients capitalize on the fast-developing opportunities. Everything is changing and the pace of change is much faster. As trusted advisers, SKO anticipates being vital to our clients’ continued spectacular growth and profitability throughout 2017.” — P. Douglas Barr Managing Director, Stoll Keenon Ogden

“For 2017, we expect to see growing need for our elder law/long-term care planning practice, in line with Kentucky’s aging population. Many decision-makers for this type of family-planning are female, so we are uniquely positioned as a certified women-owned business to assist. Many of our clients are closely-held, Kentucky-based businesses. Their concerns include access to capital, operational uncertainties based on the new state and federal administrations, and the increasing costs to engage in litigation within the legal system. While our bankruptcy filings have slowed, we are seeing several financially troubled business sectors, including retail, commercial mortgage-backed security loan maturities, municipal/local government, and healthcare. Kentucky is going to see more Chapter 9 bankruptcies and other litigation over the pension funding crisis and Kentucky’s bonding levels and credit downgrades.” — Laura Day DelCotto Managing Member, DelCotto Law 

“Last year, Bingham Greenebaum Doll achieved some remarkable litigation successes and closed large transactions on behalf of our clients. A $580 million judgement – one of the largest in Kentucky history – was found in favor of our clients (Osborn/Holt v. Griffin, Case Nos. 2:11-CV-89 and 2:13-CV-32 U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky). In 2017, there could be momentous changes in nearly every area of the law – immigration, international trade, healthcare and construction, if spending increases to rebuild infrastructure. Heavily regulated healthcare is a $3 trillion industry that may be facing big changes in the Affordable Care Act. We expect continued growth in transactions and litigation as well as economic development due to changes in Kentucky P3 regulations. Our data privacy and cybersecurity services have been in high demand as all industries face challenges managing and protecting digital assets.” — Mark Oppenheimer Office Managing Partner, Bingham Greenebaum Doll 

“2017 presents quite a different political landscape than that which existed just three short months ago. Frankfort has been historically divided, and the new majority has already begun to put forth a more pro-business agenda, including right-to-work and repeal of prevailing wage. With prospects for charter schools, tort reform and comprehensive overhaul of our antiquated tax and pension systems, Kentucky is positioned for growth and economic development, perhaps like never before. Let’s be sure that our lawmakers continue keeping their eyes on that ball, rather than distractions that threaten to derail the early progress. At this exciting time for our business community, the lawyers and government service professionals at FBT look forward to helping our clients manage and thrive through these significant changes and opportunities.” — John R. Crockett III Chairman, Frost Brown Todd LLC

“From a transactional perspective, financial institutions will affirmatively respond to the change in administration in Washington. I anticipate banks will react favorably to a friendlier business environment, capital will be available to finance transactions, and the deal flow will be more robust than it has been the past several years. On the litigation side, the possibility of tort reform in Kentucky is a material issue. I believe tort reform will be taken up on the legislative agenda in the near future and that it will pass into law in some form. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you may fall on this issue, managing partners must start to plan for tort reform.” — Henry Alford Managing Partner, Middleton Reutlinger

“Our firm is finding strength in adding to our portfolio of services. In 2016, we leased additional office space in a neighboring building and hired additional attorneys. This year, we’d like another experienced estate and probate attorney to join us. We see Bowling Green and South-Central Kentucky as particularly good places to start and nurture businesses, including our own. Housing prices are reasonable and the quality of life is strong here. We believe entrepreneurs will continue to be attracted to starting a business here because of favorable economic conditions but also because of what a great place it is to live. We anticipate our business will continue to grow this year, along with the local economy.” — Bob Young Managing Partner, English Lucas Priest & Owsley LLP

“The historic political changes in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., should create a business-friendly environment that will enhance economic growth. Dickinson Wright is uniquely positioned, with offices in Kentucky, Washington, across the United States and Canada, to assist clients with local needs as well as those engaged in interstate or global businesses. Although we expect the economic environment to be favorable for business, activity at the state and federal levels will heighten the need for businesses to carefully evaluate the changing legal environment in areas such as healthcare, taxation, immigration, labor and global trade relations.”  —Henry C. T. (Tip) Richmond III Member, Dickinson Wright PLLC 

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