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San Fernando
Monday, Sep 25, 2023

Strong Market for Legal Services Spurs Hiring

By AMY STULICK Staff Reporter While San Fernando Valley legal services are rendered primarily by solo and small firms, larger entities are looking to absorb and diversify, according to local attorneys. Barry Goldberg, president of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association and practicing personal injury attorney, expects associates to be snapped up by larger firms with three to seven years of experience in a specific practice. “A 25-lawyer firm might want to get a three to four lawyer firm that does family law or employment law,” said Goldberg. “This is a dramatic change from four to five years ago when there were a lot of attorneys on the market and people were doing piece work, independent contractor work, just to make ends meet. It’s a different market today.” Family law is less than forgiving when it comes to solo lawyers navigating harsh hours and constantly changing court mandates, according to James Reape, partner at Reape-Rickett Law Firm in Santa Clarita. In turn, seasoned attorneys in this particular sector often seek out larger firms looking to diversify or firms that already specialize in that particular area of law. Reape-Rickett ranks No. 32 on the Business Journal’s list of law firms. “What that’s done for us, because we as a family law firm are larger than most, we’ve attracted a lot of lateral hires, very seasoned attorneys who found themselves either overwhelmed or unwilling to work the kind of hours that were necessary to hit all of the benchmarks the court was imposing,” Reape told the Business Journal. “There have been some changes that were instituted by the last presiding judge with respect to a lot of case management type work.” “Certain law that is more consumer oriented like divorce law, estate planning, that sort of thing, certainly criminal practice, they’re amenable to having a small firm because transactions are more consumer oriented,” explained Richard Rosenberg, partner at Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt, No. 16 on the Business Journal list. “When you’re dealing with the mergers and acquisitions of large companies, they tend to go to big law where they have the technology and team of lawyers … to get documents out by their due dates,” he added. Economic stimulus For family law specifically, Reape mentioned that his firm is seeing more “gray divorce” cases, as he calls it, with older parties separating if their wallets can handle it. “Older parties that reach a certain stage of their life where, if they’re unhappy in their relationship, they are likely to do something about it like get a divorce and live the remainder of their life under their own terms and conditions and pursue their own happiness,” explained Reape. Although divorce has been steadily declining since the 1970s, there is still higher incidences when the economy is doing well, Reape said. “It does depend on the sector, but I think particularly for the work our own firm does, there is a very strong correlation. … I see the activity in our field and the ability to retain a lawyer to assist say, with a dissolution, is very in sync with how well the economy is doing.” Attorneys with valuable expertise have the clout to obtain better hours for a more balanced work-family life, Reape added. A staff of experienced attorneys allows for the Santa Clarita-based firm to hire and train younger attorneys through “fairly aggressive” recruiting programs. The San Fernando Valley has proven to be a great source of talent, Reape said, a trend that is slowly wearing down a stigma associated with the area. Reap-Rickett currently has 26 employees and three offices, one in Santa Clarita, Calabasas and Westlake Village. “The Valley has matured. The firms that have been in town are now opening satellites and branches in the Valley because their experienced lawyers don’t want to make the commute,” explained Reape. Overall, the industry is looking to create a better consumer experience from the drive to see a lawyer, experience at the firm and technological capabilities, Reape said. Technology is a hot topic, with those in the industry seeing benefits while others warn of pitfalls. “The impact of technology has to some extent commoditized what we do, making it less legal and more like a commodity,” explained Rosenberg. For Goldberg, online legal services may open the door for solo or small firms to secure clients by making themselves available on such service platforms in addition to having a brick-and-mortar presence. “What I’ve encouraged is for solo and small law firms to embrace the fact that these things are available, join in on it and educate the public,” added Goldberg. “I’m someone that embraces the changes that are inevitable and trying to adapt. “It’s not about pro-technology or anti-technology,” he said. “There is a silver lining. Lawyers that go with the flow can profit from it.”

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