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. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

  2. Low energy. Next!

  3. Had William Pryor made such provocative statements as a candidate for the Indiana bar he could have been blackballed as I have documented elsewhere on this ezine. That would have solved this huuuge problem for the Left and abortion industry the good old boy (and even girl) Indiana way. Note that Diane Sykes could have made a huuge difference, but she chose to look away like most all jurists who should certainly recognize a blatantly unconstitutional system when filed on their docket. See footnotes 1 & 2 here: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html Sykes and Kanne could have applied a well established exception to Rooker Feldman, but instead seemingly decided that was not available to conservative whistleblowers, it would seem. Just a loss and two nice footnotes to numb the pain. A few short years later Sykes ruled the very opposite on the RF question, just as she had ruled the very opposite on RF a few short years before. Indy and the abortion industry wanted me on the ground ... they got it. Thank God Alabama is not so corrupted! MAGA!!!

  4. OK, take notice. Those wondering just how corrupt the Indiana system is can see the picture in this post. Attorney Donald James did not criticize any judges, he merely, it would seem, caused some clients to file against him and then ignored his own defense. James thus disrespected the system via ignoring all and was also ordered to reimburse the commission $525.88 for the costs of prosecuting the first case against him. Yes, nearly $526 for all the costs, the state having proved it all. Ouch, right? Now consider whistleblower and constitutionalist and citizen journalist Paul Ogden who criticized a judge, defended himself in such a professional fashion as to have half the case against him thrown out by the ISC and was then handed a career ending $10,000 bill as "half the costs" of the state crucifying him. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/ogden-quitting-law-citing-high-disciplinary-fine/PARAMS/article/35323 THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE for any who have ears to hear ... resist Star Chamber and pay with your career ... welcome to the Indiana system of (cough) justice.

  5. GMA Ranger, I, too, was warned against posting on how the Ind govt was attempting to destroy me professionally, and visit great costs and even destitution upon my family through their processing. No doubt the discussion in Indy today is likely how to ban me from this site (I expect I soon will be), just as they have banned me from emailing them at the BLE and Office of Bar Admission and ADA coordinator -- or, if that fails, whether they can file a complaint against my Kansas or SCOTUS law license for telling just how they operate and offering all of my files over the past decade to any of good will. The elitist insiders running the Hoosier social control mechanisms realize that knowledge and a unified response will be the end of their unjust reign. They fear exposure and accountability. I was banned for life from the Indiana bar for questioning government processing, that is, for being a whistleblower. Hoosier whistleblowers suffer much. I have no doubt, Gma Ranger, of what you report. They fear us, but realize as long as they keep us in fear of them, they can control us. Kinda like the kids' show Ants. Tyrannical governments the world over are being shaken by empowered citizens. Hoosiers dealing with The Capitol are often dealing with tyranny. Time to rise up: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/17/governments-struggling-to-retain-trust-of-citizens-global-survey-finds Back to the Founders! MAGA!

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