Economic downturn hitting attorneys, too

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COEUR d'ALENE — How well attorneys are doing in the unraveling economy depends upon the kind of law they practice and the size of their firms, say those in the profession.

"I think there's work out there. It's going to depend on what you do," said Idaho State Bar executive director Diane Minnich.

Real estate work may be slower, she said, but bankruptcy business is increasing. It may be more difficult to find a job straight out of law school, Minnich said.

Also, various news outlets are reporting prominent firms across the country laid off hundreds of lawyers in mid February.

First District Bar Association President Peter Smith added foreclosure and representation of creditors to the areas of practice doing well. Smith, of Lukins and Annis, is a real estate and litigation attorney.

"The economy definitely has a large part to do with that," he said.

Smith also said he believes people are more often motivated to go into litigation during economic downturns.

"You can't make a profit on the market by moving on to the next deal," he said.

"Then that creates a lot of defendants. And if you're a litigator in this kind of market, you can be quite busy."

Attorney Denny Davis, with Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport and Toole said the real estate work is not as frantic as it was, though there is some to be done.

"There are still businesses out there transacting business, so the need to assist them continues," Davis said.

He said the firm does see more bankruptcy activity from the creditors' side and there are more foreclosures going on, but foreclosure activity has not wildly increased so far.

Attorney Mary Cusack of Wallace and Cusack said she is extremely busy in her estate planning, trust and probate practice.

"I think it's because people now, with whatever resources they have, they're more interested in preserving those for their family," she said.

Also, she noted that estate planning rules are changing with the change in presidential administrations.

And since North Idaho property values have risen, more locals are affected by estate tax laws.

Attorney John Reese, who has had his own practice since March of 2007, said he has talked to friends who are struggling, but he isn't doing too bad. An increase in bankruptcy business has helped he said.

"My feeling is some of the smaller practitioners are suffering," Reese said.

Real problems may not have arrived yet, however.

"The bigger issue may become whether their clients can pay their bills," Minnich said.

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