Hot legal practice areas for 2013

by Bernadette Starzee

Published: December 5, 2012

Health care, intellectual property, banking and labor and employment law will be growth areas for law firms in 2013, according to the national legal newspaper and sister publication Lawyers USA.

Issues related to the Affordable Care Act and consolidations in the health care industry have already translated to “a bonanza of work” for Ruskin Moscou Faltischek’s health care attorneys, a trend that Managing Partner Mark Mulholland expects to continue in 2013.

In the intellectual property category, two changes resulting from the America Invents Act will take effect in March and will likely bring more business to Long Island’s intellectual property law firms.

“There’s a new system in which the first inventor to file gets the patent, where in the past, the first person to invent something got the patent,” said Paul J. Esatto, a partner at Scully, Scott, Murphy & Presser, an intellectual property law firm in Garden City. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries from clients about what they can do to make their internal processes more efficient to ensure they are the first to file.”

Additionally, a new low-cost system to invalidate patents in the patent office rather than federal courts will be a boon to midsized IP law firms, Esatto said.

“Companies are more likely to go with larger firms when dealing with federal courts,” he said. Further, several decisions expected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 will have implications for patent, copyright and trademark practices, Esatto said.

In the banking law arena, lawyers will continue to be kept busy in the wake of the Dodd-Frank Act and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to Lawyers USA.

Mulholland called employment and labor law a bellwether field.

“Companies need to address employment issues whether they’re making money or not,” he said.

The Department of Labor has been more active under President Barack Obama’s administration in educating workers about their rights, which has contributed to increased activity in wage-and-hour and other employment claims, said Victor Fusco, whose Woodbury-based firm, Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada, defends workers in disability and insurance claims. The need for lawyers in disability claims has risen, too, as the alleged Long Island Rail Road scam has helped make every claim suspect, Fusco said.

“Doctors are more reluctant to get involved, which makes it harder for workers to prove their case, and government agencies have tightened up requirements because of pressure on budgets,” Fusco said.

In the coming months, employment lawyers will be busy dealing with issues arising from Superstorm Sandy, said Patricia E. Salkin, dean of Touro Law Center in Central Islip, who said business closures – whether temporary or permanent – and downsizings that resulted from the storm would give rise to legal claims related to employment law.

Legal matters pertaining to insurance claims will also grow in the near term, with policyholders who believe they should get coverage butting heads with insurance companies.

“Insurance companies are going to be dealing with a lot of claims, and they will try a million different ways not to pay,” Fusco said.

Certain categories of law are more recession-proof than others.

“Matrimonial lawyers – people are still going to get divorced, probably more so, because there are more arguments about money; criminal lawyers – probably more so, because people commit more crime when they’re desperate; and trusts and estates lawyers, because people continue to die,” Middleton said. “But do fees have to be adjusted because of the economy? Absolutely.”

In the category of personal injury and negligence, people look to sue more when they don’t have money, so inquiries are up, Middleton said.

“But when money isn’t flying into insurance carriers, it’s not flying out. Plaintiff’s lawyers are less likely to take on the riskier cases,” he said.