New administration means new agendas — and new business for law firms

Heads of top firms say it’s not political issue, just reality of government’s impact on business community

Angelo Genova has been around the legal game — and the political game — enough to know one inescapable truth: Change in presidential administrations are good for the legal business.

Angelo Genova. (File photo)

Genova, the managing partner of Genova Burns, is not talking politics or social impact, just the bottom line.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” he said. “Changes in government, and particularly changes as dramatic as this — and I think this was true four years ago — are going to prompt a greater need for lawyers, and that is going to benefit lawyers that principally represent institutions that have to intersect with government.”

Genova wasn’t the only one who felt this way. ROI-NJ talked with leaders of five firms across the state Wednesday. All said President Joe Biden’s new administration would bring new opportunities for their firms — in a wide range of areas.

Phil McGovern, the managing partner of Connell Foley, mentioned infrastructure: “There will be more work, certainly, on the infrastructure front: Whenever you have construction work, real estate will always follow — and there will be land-use approvals and regulatory approvals, so a lot of areas will benefit.”

Phil McGovern. (File photo)

Max Crane, the managing partner of Sills Cummis & Gross, said those working the cannabis industry should be busy: “I think cannabis is going to get a clearer path federally because it’s going to cross swords, in a good way, with decriminalization, justice reform and small business. It just needs a little stronger push.”

Chris Porrino, partner at Lowenstein Sandler, talked about more work in white-collar law: “It will be interesting to watch. I think it’s a cautionary tale for businesses who were operating near the line or over the line. I think it will be an opportunity for the white-collar bar to get even busier than it is.”

Bob Anderson, shareholder at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, thinks there will be an uptick in many sectors, and talked about renewables: “I think it’s so broad-based. Obviously, renewable energy, in all likelihood, will see more action, and there’s also talk about putting a lot of money into R&D along those lines.”

Max Crane. (File photo)

Genova, meanwhile, talked about employment law: “I think this will be an administration that is more user-friendly to employees, particularly in the labor relations space. And, I think you’ll see changes in the labor laws that are going to require people to look at employee rights to organize, so I think labor lawyers on both sides of the equation will fare well.”

Above all else, the lawyers said the sector will be impacted by the changing nature of regulation.

“Regulation cuts across a broad spectrum of issues and sectors,” Crane said. “It’s been reported that there are all these executive orders that are waiting on the president’s desk, where he’s ready to reinstate regulations that had been rescinded. So, there’s no question in my mind that this is going to increase the regulatory regime. And, for good and for bad, for corporations who work within a regulatory regime, lawyers are essential.”

McGovern said this will be seen around environmental issues.

“I expect the environmental folks will be busy,” he said. “I think you’ll see the environmental regulations that may have been lessened during the (President Donald) Trump administration will come under more regulatory constraints under the Biden administration. So, I think you’ll see opportunities there.”

Chris Porrino. (File photo)

McGovern said he hopes more vaccination will open up the ability to do more litigation, something his firm does a lot of. Either way, he’s confident those who work in tax issues will be busy.

Crane agreed.

“It’s not a question: Taxes are going to go up,” he said. “Whether it’s income taxes or capital gains taxes or inheritance taxes or real estate taxes, the government needs money. And, notwithstanding all the political rhetoric, anyone who thinks they’re going to escape this is kidding themselves. Everyone’s taxes are going to go up.”

Unless you have a good lawyer.

“The very smart, creative lawyers and lobbyists are going to do what they always do: Figure out ways to reduce people’s tax burden. Tax lobbying, tax structuring, tax planning all are going to become fresh fodder for the legal business,” Crane said.

Bob Anderson. (File photo)

More taxes mean more revenue, something Anderson thinks is coming. He said he expects to see the economy rebound in the second half of the year, which could drive more mergers & acquisitions work.

“There’s just so much pent-up energy,” he said.

That timeline may work for another reason, Porrino said.

He thinks one of the biggest impacts of the new administration on the legal profession will be the confirmation of more judges.

“The new administration will help with the judicial vacancies in our federal courts,” he said. “Now that the Senate is Democratically controlled, that problem should be solved really quickly. I think that’s a really positive thing.”

Of course, all of this is tempered by the COVID-19 reality. While Genova is quick to say that all changes in administration bring new business opportunities, he notes this year’s transition is different from all the rest. He’s hopeful Biden will recognize this.

“Time will tell, but I think what we’re going to see is an administration that is going to be result-oriented, measured, not ideologically driven, and understands that there’s an interrelationship between getting this public health crisis under wraps and our economy,” he said. “He’s got to deal with the public health crisis and create a foundation for the economy to proceed. And all of those things contribute to the role of lawyers, whether it’s in making deals, acquiring companies, helping companies grow, assisting startups or dealing with the issues involving employees.”

Genova points out, however, that increased business for firms is not necessarily tied to increased business. That concerns him.

“Although clients call lawyers to help them navigate changes in law, whether or not those laws are going to encourage economic growth is another story,” he said. “Lawyers also rely on economic growth. So, it’s kind of a double-edged sword.”