Ky. Law Firm Leaders’ Verdict for 2020: More Growth

Strong fundamentals keep driving IP, real estate, construction, major corporation litigation; M&A might slow

By LaneReport.com staff

The heads of Kentucky’s largest law firms see the steady growth they managed in 2019 continuing in most practice areas for 2020. Attorneys with experience in handling business issues, especially the complex ones, are in demand. Intellectual property practice growth is high and firms are having to expand their recruiting efforts beyond state lines. Litigators are in demand today. Firm managers find attitudes and outlooks among their business clients are positive, but are adjusting fee structures to limit costs in response to client concerns. Health care, real estate, construction projects, employment issues and public-private partnerships are generating ongoing work. While middle-size businesses are tending to use in-house legal staff, those doing business across state and national borders are outsourcing their more complex legal jobs to firms with expertise. Understanding of trade and tariff policies and acquisition activity is valued. Elections approaching this fall are generating uncertainty, and some investors appear to be adopting cautious attitudes.

“Today’s legal economy is rapidly changing. To meet these changes, Fowler Bell has the latest technology, which it combines with a high level of personal attention to each client. As we enter 2020, we still see a strong business environment and clients requiring law firms with proven track records. Fowler Bell provides prompt, high-quality, personal legal services to our clients in business, restructuring and litigation. 2020 brings many exciting changes to Central Kentucky – completion of City Center, expansion of the Lexington Convention Center, and the 2020 Breeders Cup. There are multiple other exciting projects, including continuing redevelopment of the UK campus and the development of Town Branch. Fowler Bell is pleased to be a part of the Lexington community.” — Taft McKinstry, Fowler Bell

“Always conscious of economic trends in the legal community, in 2020 the McBrayer firm will focus on consolidation and streamlining of services, thereby improving client value without increasing client costs. With the start of a new decade the firm will begin offering clients services with flat fees as well as law-adjacent services such as human resources consulting and compliance auditing. These services will enhance not only the legal services offered, but the government relations services as well. By continually listening to our clients and understanding their ever-changing needs, the firm successfully revisits and reshapes its business model to remain extremely competitive in the Kentucky legal market.” James H. Frazier III, Managing Member, McBrayer PLLC

“Bingham Greenebaum Doll continues to benefit from the increase in demand for seasoned attorneys with management and business skills to handle the most complex cross-jurisdictional matters. Corporate law departments at medium-size businesses continue to increase the utilization of their existing resources rather than look for additional outside counsel, a trend likely to continue through 2020. To keep pace with that trend, we have approved a three-firm combination with Dentons and Cohen & Grigsby in the United States to expand the depth and breadth of services for our larger clients on a national and global scale. During 2020, we will become Dentons Bingham Greenebaum. Our combination is the first step toward building a truly national law firm capable of meeting the evolving needs and priorities of our clients in 2020 and beyond.” — P. Branden Gross, Lexington Office Managing Partner, Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP

“On the local and national levels, the shake-up of government leadership at the end of 2019 does not look as though it is likely to pose much risk to what is an overall positive outlook for the economy. However, challenges could arise in the commonwealth with respect to international trade. If our trade disputes with the Chinese continue, they could contribute to a possible slowdown of real GDP growth during the coming year. Employment growth in Kentucky is expected to continue, particularly in the areas of nonfarm and educational services. These are only a few of the ever-changing and uncertain issues that Dinsmore attorneys are dedicated to monitoring, communicating about, and helping navigate for our clients.” — Chauncey Curtz, Lexington Office Managing Partner, Dinsmore & Shohl

“For the first time in several years, I am starting to see some negativity in the market. While middle-market deal flow remains solid, I am not sure it is sustainable through 2020 and into 2021. Institutional credit markets are starting to tighten and venture capital investors seem more skittish. Economy fundamentals remain strong, but changes in the credit and equity markets lead me to believe most lenders and investors are preparing for slower growth. Middleton is preparing for potential changes in M&A activity by refocusing on client segments in industries less reactive to general market forces such as our intellectual property and litigation practices. These practice groups continue to outpace expectations, with our only limiting factor being finding enough outstanding lawyers to satisfy demand. Middleton litigation teams continue to represent clients in high-profile “bet the company” lawsuits throughout the country, and our need for attorneys in this area is growing. The same is true for our IP practice, where Kentucky’s talent pool is insufficient to meet the firm’s needs. In 2020, we will recruit IP candidates throughout the U.S.” — Henry Alford, Managing Director, Middleton Reutlinger

“From my perspective, two factors will slow Kentucky’s economy in 2020 – tariffs and policy uncertainty resulting from the upcoming election. Kentuckians feel the effects of the trade war. For instance, American whiskey exports grew 28% in the six months before retaliatory tariffs began in June 2018, but in the second half of 2018, exports fell 11% compared to the same 2017 period. Elections, especially those with polarizing candidates, heighten uncertainty regarding government spending and regulation. This uncertainty causes business investments to drag as owners postpone large expenditures and regulated industries await greater regulatory clarity. The good news is that our electoral uncertainty will end in November, and late 2020 and 2021 should see an economic rebound.” Jim Newberry, Louisville Office Managing Member, Steptoe and Johnson

“Along with hiring a new CIO, we invested in several technology upgrades in 2019, which was very robust for Stites & Harbison. We anticipate a similar trajectory for 2020. Technological investments will allow us to work smarter, faster and more efficiently for our clients. We continue to see an increase in the complexity and sophistication of the legal matters being handled by outside law firms – ourselves included. In-house legal departments are spending more on outside counsel for complicated work. We predict the majority of our lawyers will work with clients on business and product liability litigation, real estate, data privacy, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, health care, business services, employment, and construction matters in 2020. Baby boomer retirements are causing a substantial uptick in our estate planning practice. Recent leadership changes in the commonwealth along with an upcoming presidential election will impact laws and regulations. Like many firms our size, we continue to seek out laterals or small groups of attorneys to join Stites & Harbison in 2020 to continue enhancing our services.”  Robert M. Connolly, Chair, Stites & Harbison

“After a year focused on putting as much emphasis on legal expertise as industry knowledge, 2020 will see law firms taking that industry-focused service to strategic markets where both the region and existing clients can benefit. Frost Brown Todd recently expanded to the Ann Arbor, Mich., market where the automotive companies and technology start-ups dominate. This is not only an opportunity to bring our unique knowledge to businesses there, but many of our clients in the auto and tech space are either already based in that area or have strong connections. They will benefit from our presence on the ground.” Geoff White, Louisville Member-in-Charge Frost Brown Todd

“For 2020, law firms providing litigation services should see economic results similar to those incurred in 2019. The United States economy is expected to demonstrate slow but steady growth. Trade concerns remain somewhat volatile but appear to be easing. Accordingly, significant changes in business models addressing litigation costs and expenses are not expected. Companies involved in litigation will, however, continue to explore methods by which costs and expenses can be reduced.  Trends over the past several years have included alternative fee arrangements including flat fees. Cost containment will be addressed through early mediation and claim resolution to avoid protracted legal expenses.” — Richard Edwards, Partner, Boehl Stopher & Graves

“At Wyatt, our lawyers have closed many significant M&A transactions over the last several years, with activity during 2019 reaching record levels. Private equity firms based in money centers continue to aggressively seek out and acquire locally owned businesses. We see this continuing into 2020. We remain concerned about rural communities dependent upon coal and agriculture, two difficult sectors experiencing turbulence. Our state and local governments must increase their focus on operating efficiently and investing in infrastructure. Most of all, we must improve public education. Developing a world-class education system (from pre-K through university) remains the only viable long-term solution for remaining competitive as a predominately rural state in a global economy.” Franklin Jelsma, Managing Partner, Wyatt Tarrant & Combs

“As a service provider business, DBL Law’s growth is reflective of the community and the clients that we serve. We have seen steady growth the past few years and have noticed particular increases in health care and employment-related issues. We’ve also seen an increase in real estate and banking transactions, especially those in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky urban core. Attractive and accessible incentives from federal, state and local government sources, including the 2017 federal tax overhaul and investment tools like the qualified opportunity zones credit and 1031 tax exchange have contributed to our economic growth these past few years. In 2020, our economy will continue to grow, but at a more moderate pace. I believe three key factors will have an overall negative impact: 1) Increases in global market trade restrictions, 2) Low unemployment rates and resulting workforce shortages, 3) Declining consumer confidence resulting in less spending and slower job growth.” Bob Hoffer, Managing Partner, DBL Law

“As is typical of a presidential election year, we expect some degree of uncertainty in capital markets as the political direction of the country begins to come into focus.  Assuming the fundamentals of our national economy remain strong, we believe Kentucky is well positioned to enjoy moderate growth during 2020. We anticipate an increased interest in public-private partnerships throughout the year and believe the principle challenge state lawmakers face will be to strike the appropriate balance between legislative initiatives that encourage sustained economic development while still generating sufficient revenue to support critical infrastructure improvements. Our clients in the energy, construction, financial services, equine and health care industries all report a positive outlook for 2020, and we look forward to continued work with them throughout the year as they help drive our economy forward.” Clif Clark, Managing Member Lexington Office, Jackson Kelly

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