By Greg Paeth
The rebounding national economy is driving down unemployment numbers and creating new demands for legal services that Louisville’s nimble, growing and expert business law has taken in stride.
As businesses grow and become more complex, there’s more demand for legal services. Those services can be as tangible and time-tested as writing a contract with a concrete supplier for expanding the employee parking lot or as intangible as protecting a trademark or other intellectual property.
“In the last two-and-a-half to three years there’s been a substantial change in client transactions in the merger-and-acquisition space,” said Henry S. Alford, managing director of Middleton Reutlinger, which has a staff of about 60 attorneys in its Louisville office. “The multiples being paid for assets are very high and prompt some sellers to sell now. People are confident in the economy, and they want to deploy some cash after being on the sidelines after (the market crash) of 2008. There’s a pent-up demand to do something” with their money.
One sector in the legal field that’s expanding rapidly in Louisville and elsewhere in the United States focuses on intellectual property, which is broadly defined as trade secrets, trademarks, patents and copyrights.
“The internet changed how trademarks are exposed, so we have to police, monitor and protect them because of the greater risk of infringement,” said Alford, who added that his firm’s intellectual property practice has grown exponentially in recent years.
Because of that growth, Alford said Middleton Reutlinger is looking for engineers who have expertise with patents and a law degree. As might be imagined, that combination of credentials is difficult to find.
IP law wasn’t the only area of growth for Middleton Reutlinger.
“We closed over $1 billion in transactions and financings over the last 12 months and believe that we will have similar volume during 2019 as private equity continues to seek out deals in Kentucky and the surrounding region,” Alford said when asked early this year about the 2019 outlook for his firm.
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Attorney Jack A. Wheat of McBrayer also made it clear that the internet has had a profound impact on businesses worldwide.
“The growing ubiquity of social media and an ever-expanding connectivity with the online world has created a host of legal issues in many fields, but an area of the law that lives at the forefront of the entire digital realm is intellectual property,” Wheat said in an email. “We deal with the tremendous onslaught of digital content uploaded second by second, and the various rights associated with the creation of that content, all of which falls under some classification of intellectual property protection. Is it copyright infringement to link to an image from another social media account that infringed on yet another’s copyright?”
IP law is based primarily on federal law, Wheat said, and the McBrayer firm probably does more intellectual property litigation outside Kentucky and outside of the country than it does inside the state.
Meeting workplace needs
Cindy Effinger, also of McBrayer, made it clear that Hollywood and New York aren’t the only cities paying attention to the issue of sexual harassment on the job.
“The #MeToo movement is part of an evolution both socially and in employment and human resources law that has put a spotlight squarely on power structures in the workplace. As with any major change, the transition for employers has been bumpy at times, but the net result has been positive in that we have been able to help management respond appropriately and supportively to employees when the specter of harassment arises,” Effinger said in an email. “Assisting with these efforts helps to stem the tide of harassment before it can start, boosting employee morale and ensuring a safe and comfortable workplace; this in turn provides a benefit to employers as well through reduced turnover and increased productivity.”
Effinger described employment law as an “ever-moving target” for a variety of reasons, especially because some companies don’t hire full-time workers the way they did in the past.
“As the ‘gig economy’ continues to take hold and freelance work by independent contractors becomes more prevalent, employment contracts are growing in both popularity and necessity,” she said. “Meanwhile, the Department of Labor continues to view independent contractor arrangements with a stern eye to ensure that they aren’t merely an end-run around employment laws and regulations.”
Creating new forms of expertise
The Louisville Bar Association claims a membership of some 3,100 active attorneys, so there’s plenty of competition in the metropolitan area, where one of the largest firms is Frost Brown Todd, whose Louisville office is headed by Member-In-Charge Geoff White.
Frost Brown distinguishes itself from the pack because of its focus on understanding the businesses and industries of its clients, an added value that can be difficult for other firms to duplicate, White said.
He rattled off a list of the types of work his firm handles every day, making it clear Frost Brown’s 140 lawyers in Louisville are equally comfortable closing a $100 million transaction for a real estate investment trust as they are when they’re assembling a financial package for a small apartment project in Louisville.
The firm’s business/industry knowledge is apparent, for example, in its franchise and hospitality industry team, which has a wealth of experience in the refranchise, divestiture and acquisition of franchise outlets. It was part of the team that represented the first multiconcept franchise-purchasing cooperative and organized the first casual-dining purchasing cooperative, White said in an email.
That same team in Louisville also has represented franchisee associations in connection with general formation and operational matters, including the preparation of articles of incorporation and bylaws, franchise system advertising and marketing policies, and franchise dispute resolution.
This is “a classic example we see of taking our local and regional expertise, utilizing it to better serve clients across the country, which in turn better allows us to serve our local clients by bringing in best practices across the industry,” said White, who pointed out that the firm has 520 attorneys in 12 offices in eight states.
White also said the Louisville office has a similar depth of knowledge and experience in financial services, where Frost Brown Todd has represented financial institutions with regulatory issues as well as intra- and interstate reorganizations and acquisitions.
As might be expected from someone who has the “member-in-charge” title, White also lavished praise on the firm’s public finance team, its commercial lending practice group, the national commercial real estate finance group, and a multifamily housing practice as well as business litigation.
9300 Shelbyville Road,
Louisville, KY 40222
McBrayer serves its clients and the community through its commitment to service and local involvement. The firm’s more than 50 attorneys focus on a varied array of practice areas such as litigation, corporate, employment, real estate, intellectual property, hospitality, health care and mediation. The firm is also recognized for its exceptional lobbying group, MML&K Government Solutions.
401 S. Fourth St.
Louisville, KY 40202
With historic roots planted in Louisville 165 years ago, Middleton Reutlinger has established and grown its practice based on a responsive, innovative and personal approach with all clients, from international to local. With over 50 attorneys expertly practicing a range of legal services, including litigation, business law, government and regulatory law, health care law and intellectual property law for some of the country’s leading companies, the firm works to meet each client’s individual needs. Consistently recognized by Chambers USA, U.S. News Best Lawyers & Best Law Firms, Super Lawyers and more, Middleton Reutlinger is also proud to be one of Kentucky’s “2019 Best Places to Work”.
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