On the cutting edge: Emerging tech is both challenge and opportunity for law firms like Mandelbaum Salsburg

By Brett Johnson
Roseland | Nov 7, 2018 at 3:11 pm
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It’s not what you could call a garden-variety client.

One of law firm Mandelbaum Salsburg P.C.’s clients is launching a tool that would send electrical pulses through fruits and vegetables to extend their life on grocery store shelves, a science fiction-esque technology that could disrupt the produce market.

For a client like that, a law firm might have no obvious answers in existing case law for all the legal questions. And that’s not at all uncommon. 

Law firms across the state are finding themselves at the confluence of how dynamic technology is becoming and how the legal sector’s traditional outfits can continue to navigate it. Fast-evolving technologies — from the unheard-of to emerging solutions in areas such as artificial intelligence — have law firms scrambling for the right mix of legal know-how to meet a new demand for legal services.

Mandelbaum Salsburg, a local firm based in Roseland that has a history dating back to 1930, is one of the law firms taking this very seriously. It announced it would be forming an Emerging Technology Group back in September. Peter Levy, the chair of the new practice, had this to say about that decision:

“Clients are asking for problems to be solved quickly, efficiently and with a lot of depth in areas that probably were things we hadn’t even considered as soon as five years ago, but are soon to be accepted as normal. The creation of this practice is a recognition that today’s new technologies become tomorrow’s standard business fare.”

A catalyst for the group’s formation was the amount of clients coming in with expectations of more specialized expertise than ever, Levy added. 

“We came to the realization that our clients are looking for more specialization and a great deal of expertise,” he said. “It’s all about specialization today, even outside the legal profession. Look at how internal medicine doctors have over the past decade been split into a dozen subspecialties.”

Some of the clients that went out looking for niche specialization and found the firm include a startup with an interactive AI software on handheld devices providing clarity during the car buying process, a company with a wireless technology that powers unmanned electric vehicles, a pharmaceutical client with the only concussion drug being reviewed by the FDA and a blockchain technology developer set on shaking up the advertising industry.

With any of these clients, the practice group assigns them an attorney whom the firm calls a “gatekeeper.” This individual advocates for the client and provides advice through the life of the business.

It’s a model that Levy believes is relatively untried in the sector. There’s a practical reason to experiment now. Importantly, the team-based approach allows the firm’s lawyers to work off of fixed fees, as opposed to living by the dreaded billable hour, Levy said.

“It’s no secret that the practice of law is becoming more and more competitive,” Levy said. “Pricing is an issue. And we’re entering a phase in which legal services are a buyer’s market. So, the pressure on law firms to deliver high quality at a lower price has never been as strong as it is today.”

Even with the complexity of dealing with emerging areas of business and unknowns in shoring up legal risk, it’s considered financially rewarding by firms to claim legal specialties earlier than ever into the life of an industry. Although startups aren’t known for deep pockets for legal coverage, the demand is huge — and no law firm wants to fall behind in meeting that demand. 

“We have to ameliorate so many risks that didn’t exist years ago, in areas of business that also didn’t exist years ago,” Levy said. “But, we want to stay ahead of the game in getting to those new clients, especially because of how competitive the legal sector is today.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Peter Levy of Mandelbaum Salsburg at: plevy@lawfirm.ms or 973-585-1283.