Lawyers are back: Politics and new practice areas


The 45th president, and new practice areas such as the gig economy and cannabis, are giving the law profession a boost.

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Talk to just about any lawyer, and they will give you an example of a Trump Administration-related legal filing.

To wit:

Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Duane Bosworth successfully defended OPB’s motion to kill a Jeff Sessions-approved subpoena for former reporter John Sepulvado. The subpoena concerned Sepulvado’s recorded interview with Ryan Bundy during the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Dozens of lawyers descended on the Portland airport when the first travel ban was announced. Since then the pressure on the immigration firehose has only intensified.

“Immigration used to be an archaic field,” says Philip Smith, a Portland immigration attorney. Not today. “I would say there’s no immigration attorney anywhere who hasn’t had their phone ringing off the hook,” he says.

Regulatory rollbacks are also boosting business. Elizabeth Howard, a natural resources attorney with Schwabe, Williams & Wyatt, says a weakening of EPA laws will probably lead to an increase in litigation by nonprofits. Washington and Oregon are also stepping in to enhance regulations dismantled by the federal government.

The uptick in business is a double-edged sword, at least in Oregon’s more liberal enclaves. The 45th president is creating cognitive dissonance for business and employment law attorneys who voted for the opposition but whose clients now benefit from new executive branch policies, says Rich Meneghello, publications partner at Fisher Phillips.

“On the one hand, a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest are personally and politically offended by having Donald Trump in the White House,” he says.

“And yet we’re advising employers: ‘A lot of things coming out of the White House, or that we predict will come out of the White House, are really good news for employers.’ It’s an odd dynamic, whereby we are saying: ‘Hey, this is good news.’ And yet we’re choking back a little of our own personal feelings.”


TRANSGENDER

Ten years ago, most employment law firms didn’t take transgender issues seriously, and invasive questions about hormones and the transition process were the norm. The cultural lens has shifted, especially in Oregon, whichranks 7th in the nation for number of transgender identifying residents.

The state also requires gender identity as a protected class. And there are Oregon education guidelines as well. These demographics and regulations giving rise to new transgender specialty in law firms.

“I presented on this issue at our annual employment seminar this year,” says PK Runkles-Pearson, an employment lawyer with Miller Nash Graham and Dunn. “I was surprised by how many people were saying: ‘We’re facing this issue and wondering what we should do.’

Her client list is growing, and the majority are employers wanting to make their workplaces transgender friendly.

To read an expanded version of this story, click here.


 GIG ECONOMY

Are Uber drivers employees or independent contractors? It seems as if every day a court or agency hands down a ruling classifying so-called gig workers as one or the other. But so far there is no consensus. The result is mass confusion — and plenty of work for lawyers navigating where to draw the line.

“We’re living with a 21st-century employment model, but we’re still playing by 20th-century rules,” says Meneghello. Meneghello co-chairs Fisher Phillips’ gig economy practice, which launched in 2016.

Gig employers like Uber and Airbnb aren’t the only companies hiring lawyers. Brick and mortar operations are also starting to Uber-ize their businesses. For example, a retailer might use a scheduling app to respond to an ebb or flow in customers over a 24-hour period. By the year 2020, more than 60% of companies expect to use freelance capacity.

Meneghello, who updates the firm’s gig economy blog two to three times per week, favors the creation of a third, hybrid classification of worker. But until that happens, employment lawyers have their hands full.

“Courts, regulators and employers are struggling to find out the best way to manage and apply workforce laws that were written to apply to an economy that doesn’t look like anything we’re facing today.”

Fisher Phillips didn’t see a dip in in business, even during the recession, Meneghello says. “People are always screwing up at work; people are always getting fired. And since the election, it’s been nonstop.”


CANNABIS

Legal marijuana has lawyers seeing green. This winter the Oregon State Bar became the third bar in the nation to add a cannabis law division, following Michigan and Colorado.

The division already has 71 members, from big law firms to solo operators such as Jennifer Clifton, a Bend attorney who decided to focus exclusively on marijuana services last October.

Clifton signs between two and three clients a week; the bulk are growers and many are moving here from out of state.

With all the lawyers hanging out their cannabis shingles, is the market becoming oversaturated? In a word, no, says Clifton.

“The laws are constantly changing, and it touches on so many different issues: land use, regulations, corporation transaction and taxes.”

“My revenue,” she says, “has gone up over 100%.”

This article is part of a larger story on legal trends that was published in the May issue of Oregon Business.




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