"It's cutting a lot of people out of the system who do have valid claims."
While attorneys are adapting to tort reforms, William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, said it may be several years before the real impact of recent reforms are known because of how long it takes a case to work its way through the legal system.
"What we're seeing is the frequency of medical malpractice cases have gone down, but the severity of those cases have remained the same," Large said. "A medical malpractice case is still a big issue-type case with substantial damages. It's probably too early to tell the full impact of medical malpractice reform until all the appellate rulings are finalized."
In the constantly changing legal world, it's not just legislative reforms impacting an attorney's practice. Fluctuations in the economy, such as the slumping housing market, also play a big role.
Doug Stanford, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, said law firms are having to shift their focus because of the residential real estate slowdown.
"There's a lot of foreclosures out there," Stanford said. "There's only a select number of lawyers who specialize in foreclosures and you're going to see [the number of foreclosure specialists] increase."
Meanwhile, real estate attorneys who handled property sales closings are seeing a dramatic drop in business. Attorneys who did well during the real estate boom are "wondering where the next job is going to come from," said Stanford.
"Many are adjusting to the marketplace," Stanford said. "Companies that are any good are able to adapt to changing conditions."
Foreclosures were up about 30 percent in 2007. According to Duval County Clerk of the Courts, there were 9,654 foreclosures in 2006. In 2007, there were 12,537 and another increase is expected in 2008.
"There are many more foreclosures," said Mark Heekin of the Heekin Law Firm. "There's also a lot of people contacting me to negotiate a short sale with the lender. They want to try and sell the property and get the lender to accept less than they are actually owed."
Heekin said in the past three weeks, he has seen more residential sale contracts, which may be a sign of better times.
"With interest rates on residential mortgages dropping and residential home prices dropping," Heekin said, "we're thinking there may be at least a minor boom in transactions."
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