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Family law attorney John Pratt has over 50 years of legal experience, mainly in private practice. He’s spent the last 30 years in family law and served as president of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association in 2018.
2020 Projection: Elder law, intellectual law, law related to the #MeToo movement, health care and cannabis, are going to occupy the legal profession for the foreseeable future.
SBJ: What are the biggest issues facing the law industry right now?
Pratt: I read 20% of the American population is gong to be over 65 within the next short period of time. That is certainly going to be a growth area for elder law, for those lawyers who specialize in Medicare and making certain people are comfortable in their transfer of wealth.
In Missouri, I think the cannabis thing is going to be ripe for many issues that may need to be resolved. There is probably going to be litigation in various places, from the selection of dispensaries and all kinds of issues that arise.
The elephant in the room is what’s going to happen with the federal government and their approach. They don’t want to involve our federal economy as it relates to banking and cannabis. There are a lot of holes that need to be patched.
SBJ: What’s your take on the four tort reform bills passed in Missouri in 2019?
Pratt: I followed that Doe Run case. That was the big bill that came out of the Missouri legislature this past year, where the thousands of plaintiffs from Peru could participate in a lawsuit in St. Louis County, I believe. The specific bill may have been Senate Bill 7 that was adopted. The governor had written a letter to the secretary of state that it’s the sense of people in Missouri that we didn’t care to be dealing with mass tort cases, litigation, involving people who are not from the state of Missouri. I think as that bill works its way through the various court cases and ultimate trips to the appellate court and Supreme Court, we’ll see if that’s going to hold true.
The argument is that courts in the U.S. are more liberal than, for example, a Peruvian court in that Doe Run case.
I believe that corporations are more eager to be able to deal with their future by having those kinds of cases tried where they occur and not brought to Missouri simply because that happens to be the headquarters.
SBJ: Is litigation spending increasing?
Pratt: No, I don’t think so. Our area of practice has been flat for the last couple of years. I think that is a function of more people settling their cases, of using mediators more frequently in cases, and of judges getting involved in cases at an early time. … When it gets down to the dollars and cents that does help move clients toward resolution. Clients would rather put more money in their own pocket and take care of families and children as opposed to pay to litigate sometimes very emotional issues.
SBJ: Are more companies adding in-house legal counsel?
Pratt: I keep reading about the number of applications to law schools being substantially down over 10 years or 15 years ago. I believe that lawyers who are graduating from school, getting their law license, they are more open to work in counsel, an in-house setting, than they were 20 years ago. The salaries and stability associated have driven the movement toward there being good, in-house lawyers that have become very significant experts in their fields. That’s been helpful.
SBJ: We’ve seen more boutique law practices open for business. Why is that?
Pratt: I know some very good lawyers who do a lot of things well, but there are not very many of them left. Virtually all lawyers have a niche. You don’t see lawyers these days where somebody comes in [the office] in the morning to write a will, and in the afternoon talk about a divorce and later handle a criminal case.
SBJ: What do you expect in private practice rates – which direction are they going?
Pratt: There’s been a legal industry trend toward flat-fee billing. That has answered some of the problems associated with the expenses of litigation.
You know, there is so much work in the last couple of weeks before you walk into the courtroom that that’s where a lot of the legal expenses occur.
We do not do flat-fee billing. In our area of the law, sometimes our clients are so emotional that it is difficult to say, ‘I’ll be your lawyer for X number of dollars’ and I would end up being their way to get even with their spouse. The only way to control that is to be the voice of reason.
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