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04/11/06

Family law practices tout new mode of dispute resolution


Attorneys practicing family law are using a more collaborative technique to resolve family business disputes for divorcing clients.

Collaborative law came into effect in the 1990s with an aim to save clients' time, energy and money. It proved successful in helping couples sort out differences through a non-adversarial collaborative divorce. Attorneys hire a neutral forensic accountant to review a family's business, assets, income, liabilities and debts and resolve disputes through mediation.

The collaborative method offers a way to avoid unwanted publicity and tries to preserve relationships, particularly in cases involving family-owned or jointly-owned businesses.

Bankruptcy reforms under fire
The reforms of the Federal Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 are not working as intended, says the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. The association recently surveyed more than 60,000 consumers seeking protection under the new law and revealed that 97% were unable to pay their debts despite credit counseling.

The law, signed by President Bush last April, is facing continued criticism and controversy from bankruptcy attorneys. Many legal analysts have questioned its effectiveness in improving consumer protection, which has created new problems, like determining whether a debtor is eligible for Chapter 7 liquidation or Chapter 13, which results in a longer court-ordered repayment plan.

The U.S. Trustee Program of the Justice Department claims that the act seeks to enhance the integrity, effectiveness and efficiency of the nation's bankruptcy system. Many legal experts, however, beg to differ.

Reed Smith's unique training program
Many law firms put emphasis on training programs, in-house seminars and a variety of short-term classes at universities. Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith has gone one step further.

The country's 10th largest firm opened its own school in order to improve client service and employee satisfaction. Reed Smith University came into effect in summer 2004 in alliance with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The firm is moving towards becoming a billion-dollar company and does not want to rely on on-the-job training programs in crystallizing its formal structure.

The University has five schools, including Leadership, Business Development, Technology, Professional Support and Law, governed by its chancellor, John Smith III, a Reed Smith partner. The 2004-2005 academic year saw the participation of nearly 1,800 employees from the firm's 16 offices. This year, the firm plans to introduce new programs for its clients as well as an undisclosed category called "friends of the firm."

Practice groups follow market trends
Most big law firms look to expand or contract their practices according to the prevailing trends in the legal industry. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham was quick to launch a Stem Cell Technology practice in the wake of California's plans to spend $3 billion on embryonic stem cell technology. The firm stepped into the promising life sciences/biotech world in order to provide exceptional services in the budding field.

Dickie McCamey & Chilcote also recently announced a new program for its Workers' Compensation Group called Medicare Set-Aside Program, which helps employees follow the laws relating to Medicare issues in the settlement of workers' compensation claims. On the other hand, an Airborne Food Illness practice launched by Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott after a massive hepatitis A outbreak in 2003 had to be subsequently shelved when it yielded no work.

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

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