ILNews

Tough times drive change

Michael W. Hoskins
November 12, 2008
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Economic Impact

This is the first article in a series about Indiana's legal community and the turbulent economy.

Indiana's recreational vehicle industry has seen better days - thousands of workers have lost their jobs, manufacturers and dealers are shutting doors, sales have plummeted, and consumers just aren't buying the fuel-hungry road giants anymore.

But just because an industry is struggling doesn't mean the attorneys practicing in that area of law are feeling the same pain. Attorneys representing clients in the economically battered RV industry aren't seeing those layoffs and downturns trickle into their worlds, but instead are adapting to new types of work coming their way as a result. It's a trend that shows just how capable the Hoosier legal community is in evolving as the economy falters and impacts their practice areas.

Let the RV industry and its attorneys tell that story.
Brotherson

"There's no way to sugarcoat this â?¦ it's a stressful time, just like it is in so many industries right now," said partner Jim Brotherson, who works in the RV Focus group at the South Bend office of Baker & Daniels. "We've thought about this a lot, the extra amount of work we're being called to do by clients that is because of the current economic conditions."

Those figures aren't pretty for northern Indiana, known as the RV capital that makes more of the vehicles than anywhere else in the country. The bleak picture is caused by a national slump in sales resulting from high fuel and commodities prices, as well as the more recent financial crisis that's limited resources and prevented people from being able to buy the travel trailers. About 3,000 job cuts have slammed the region and driven up the unemployment rate significantly, and several suppliers and dealers that have existed for decades have had to close.

This ecomomy is a new variableEconomists predict a rough economy overall for Indiana next year, a direct result of the housing market crash, financial sector meltdown, and rising energy prices. The state has seen five consecutive months of job losses, the longest streak since employment hit bottom in summer 2003, and statewide unemployment is approaching 7 percent.

For the legal world, impacts vary depending on the type of practice. Attorneys handling intellectual property, international, and employment law are seeing more business as companies shift their focuses to those areas, even as bankruptcy and foreclosure lawyers are seeing a wave of business as more filings materialize in the faltering economy. Simultaneously, areas such as corporate and small business, construction, and banking law are struggling as those focuses aren't as hot on the list as they are during better economic times.

"Whenever the economy goes in the tank as it recently has, workers who have been fired, laid off, or otherwise find themselves unemployed or underemployed seem to be more willing to seek out lawyers to pursue employment-related claims against their employers or former employers," said William Groth, a partner at Indianapolis-based Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe.

Those practicing in the RV arena seem to represent what's happening throughout the legal community as far as practice Tannergroups' ups and downs. Baker & Daniels formed its RV Focus group two years ago, and now more than 40 attorneys coordinate their respective expertise in varying areas of law, working with the 16 who regularly work in that group. Despite the economic downturn, the firm has more than doubled the number of attorneys handling those types of issues specific to the troubled RV industry, Brotherson and his colleagues say.

"We've seen downturns like this through the decades, though we haven't seen anything like this since the late 80s," said Baker & Daniels attorney Ken Weaver in South Bend, who has been working in this area for four decades and is past chairman of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. "Each time, the volume of legal work doesn't change much or it does go up some, but the nature of the work changes."

WeaverWeaver remembers how some companies shrunk from 2,500 to 400 employees in a few months back in the 1970s after the fuel shortage, but it recovered. He knows it will again, the same as other areas being slammed at the moment.

Prior to the economic and financial crisis, the RV industry saw higher sales because of consumers wanting to buy vacation vehicles, the attorneys said. Preventing litigation and handling corporate law issues were common functions, as well as knowing transportation and industry-specific manufacturing or safety law.

Companies continue to be proactive and prevent litigation, according to Joe Tanner in Indianapolis, a part of the Baker & Daniels practice group. He's being called more to polish up documents in order to avoid litigation, and companies want to re-examine warranty and dealer or supplier documents for warranty claims because of the economic uncertainties. Excess capacity is being squeezed out because consumers are buying fewer vehicles, and industry leaders are dealing with that issue.

RV attorneys are counseling more clients about federal notice laws about what's required when making sharp cutbacks and layoffs, Brotherson said. He's been at the table for manufacturer and industry closings, and he said the topic has come up often. One company had to layoff some sales representatives and another wanted to strengthen its administrative and sales areas, so the latter was able to sweep up that talent leaving the first company, he said.

"That kind of change in employment relationships is one that wouldn't have happened outside the current economic situation," he said. "What doesn't make the news is the supplier that has to lay off 10 people, and while it's not a huge newsmaker, it still means we're doing the legal work."

A key issue in recent years has been more focus on fuel efficiency because of rising oil costs, something that was compounded with the no way to sugar coateconomics in the past year. Now, that's become an even more important task combining various areas of the law and one that may offer a glimpse of what's to come for the industry as a whole, attorneys say.

"A huge premium on innovation has been born not just because of the economic malaise, but also because of a general concern about the price of fuel and availability," said Steve Hazelrigg in Fort Wayne. "That fuel aspect would be going on even without the economic situation right now, but this all has presented an opportunity for the industry to innovate to make RVs more fuel efficient."

HazelrigFor example, the industry is looking more closely at European manufacturers and improving relations with those RV makers, dealers, and suppliers overseas. Hazelrigg pointed out the smallest U.S. RVs are twice the size of the largest ones produced in Europe.

"We may see lighter products in the future because that's what consumers can afford to fill up with gas," he said. "From the supplier side, we see them struggling to invent stronger component parts to create the better fuel efficiency."

The attorneys have recruited colleagues with international law and global experience, something that didn't happen when the Baker & Daniels practice group first materialized, the attorneys say. The regular RV attorneys have been working more closely with intellectual property lawyers because of the economic troubles, they say. As layoffs happen and manufacturers and suppliers struggle to cut costs and stay afloat, more creative products are being contemplated and those ideas face a higher risk of being stolen by competitors.
 
All show how the practice group is adapting to the changes and reaching more deeply into the law firm's expertise to provide services that are needed. With history on their side, the RV attorneys are confident the industry and their practices will survive.

"The industry has been through this before, and we've always come through stronger and better," Tanner said. "This economy is a new variable, and when you have those variables, it ignites creativity among people. When you have people thinking creatively, it creates better legal work from us. That's what we like to do, so ultimately this creates a good environment to do our business."

Brotherson said he expects that in the next year there will be an increased demand for RV lawyers, as well as attorneys specializing in other hard-hit industries and fields.

"That's simply a function of the general tumult in the national economy," he said. "There's no question in my mind that that our industry will recover, and I'd be shocked if it looked like it does today. I'm not sure what it may look like, but because of all this, the lawyers must be at the table and helping with whatever guidance our clients need."

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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