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Up and down and all around

Up and down and all around

The Big Apple and its surrounds is apparently not such a fruitful destination for Australian lawyers at the moment. This really needs no explanation: the line of devastation in the wake of the…

The Big Apple and its surrounds is apparently not such a fruitful destination for Australian lawyers at the moment.

This really needs no explanation: the line of devastation in the wake of the credit crisis is not a pretty sight, and the limited need for transactional lawyers is making for an extremely competitive employment market.

But still, some of the work occurring in New York currently is nothing short of amazing and plenty of Australian-qualified, American-based lawyers are getting in on the action. Dealing with the wreckages of what were some of the world’s largest financial institutions, Wall Street is crawling with lawyers unravelling the ruins of the Fanny Maes, Fanny Macs and the Lehman Brothers.

It’s a massive chunk of work that is not only bearing the scrutiny of the world’s media, but moving against the tide of dying practice areas threatening the life of their firms. Before September’s events on Wall Street, legal market conditions monitor West Peer Monitor Index revealed a sobering reality for some of the world’s largest legal markets: overall, billable hours had faced a significant cut year-over-year since 2007, dropping by 2 per cent.

In New York City, where the bulk of the work is occurring in the fallout of the credit crisis, billable hours were down by 4.1 per cent, in London down by 2.9 per cent and in Washington DC down by 3.4 per cent.

So in picking up the pieces of financial institutions that have crumbled, law firms are taking some well-needed advice: according to the same research, firms watching the decline of their billable hours are cutting costs and improving productivity accordingly. Perhaps there is a positive in the crisis after all.

Meanwhile, just as markets were hitting record lows last week, Ross Garnaut was releasing his long-awaited report into climate change. The impact of the report’s release must surely have been disappointing, given that the report had to coincide with a globe preoccupied by finance.

And the energy, money and politics spent on the US financial situation is likely to divert the attention from one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Specialised subprime and credit crisis response groups have been forming in American law firms for years now, yet the nation has seen little by way of mainstream development of specialised climate change practice groups — and a legal capacity to deal with matters pertinent to global warming.

While some firms have been quick to realise the opportunity of advising on climate change and creating practice groups accordingly, the number is minimal when viewed in light of the sheer size of the legal industry in the US.

It’s a notion testament to the fact the US is still the biggest emitter of Greenhouse Gases in the world — yet still lagging behind the rest of the globe in any pretence at caring.

Economies will fall, rebuild and fall again, but the degradation of our environment has only one chance. To ignore it further will leave us no time to turn back the clock.

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