Long Island law firms are benefiting as those in New York City struggle to make up jobs lost during the last recession.
On the Island, employment in legal services grew by 1,600 in the past five years, rebounding to a 10-year high, state Labor Department data show, as law firms have added more lawyers and support staff. Many local law firms in "growth mode" said they find it easier to attract talent from New York City -- and clients.
Meanwhile, the city has shed 7,800 jobs in the legal sector in the same period. Employment there has shrunk back to late-1990 levels. City law firms, feeling pressure to cut costs in the face of dwindling business, have slowed hiring or resorted to layoffs.
City firms 'aren't hiring'"New York City law firms aren't hiring as many young attorneys as they used to," said Evan H. Krinick, managing partner of Uniondale-based Rivkin Radler, the Island's largest law firm, with 136 attorneys. "We have been growing our practice and have been able to add some terrific attorneys to our team."
Some factors behind the growth on Long Island are a stronger commercial real estate market here, and expansion into areas such as mergers and acquisitions -- where the Island's lower prices make firms more competitive with their city counterparts.
Rivkin Radler added 16 attorneys last year, half of them lawyers from the five boroughs, Krinick said.
New York's law business still looms large over the Island's in many ways. The city has 76,800 jobs in the legal sector, compared with 19,500 here. The $161,250 median salary for attorneys who practice in the city far outpaces Long Island's $101,930, state Labor Department data show.
And the city is home to many big law firms with national and international reputations and resources that attract high-powered clients. Half of the people employed in the city's legal sector work at firms with 100 or more employees, said James Brown, an economist in the state Labor Department's Manhattan office. Most Long Island firms are small and midsized; the average law firm here has six employees, said Shital Patel, a labor market analyst in the Labor Department's Hicksville office.
The luster of some city law firms has dimmed, for two key reasons. First, Wall Street employment is shrinking, and that means less demand for large law firms' services.
"Wall Street is part of it," Brown said. "A good deal of the city's legal work has been tied to Wall Street business deals."
And secondly, the corporate clients of large firms are increasingly demanding lower fees, which has led to lower staffing levels, Brown said.
"The city is the center of large corporate law firms, and there has been a good deal of pressure from their clients to get costs under control," Brown said.
Long Island's legal sector has by no means landed on Easy Street. The Island lost 800 legal sector jobs between December 2007 and December 2011, according to Labor Department data. Though it has recovered all those lost jobs, and employment is at the highest level since 2004, many attorneys were forced into private practice or into another profession and are struggling, said Peter Mancuso, president of the Nassau County Bar Association.
"The recession . . . affected the legal industry like no other recession in my lifetime," Mancuso said. "I think we are still feeling the effects of that."
Strong recovery on LIStill, the legal sector here has made a strong recovery, with an assist from the city.
Business from the city isn't the only reason Long Island's legal sector is growing. The improved commercial real estate market is also driving employment growth, Patel said.
And Brown, the Labor Department economist, noted that the many smaller firms on Long Island specialize in real estate transactions.
Some firms on Long Island, particularly the bigger ones, see themselves competing more than ever with city law firms by touting their smaller-town advantages.
Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, an 86-lawyer firm in East Meadow, added 12 attorneys last year, half from the city, managing partner Bernard Hyman said.
"Our choice of attorneys is much different than it used to be," he said. "Law school graduates who ordinarily would have gone into the city for high-paying jobs now consider working out on Long Island," he said.
Some newcomers to Long Island cite benefits such as shorter commutes and professional development as reasons for making the switch.
Sandra Irby Buchanan, 32, who joined Rivkin Radler in September, previously worked for the state Court of Appeals in Manhattan. She said she was impressed with the partners' emphasis on professional support and development for associates.
"It was very clear that this was the firm I wanted to join," said Buchanan, who recently moved to Long Island from Queens with her stepdaughter and husband.
Attorney Robert B. Moy, 49, who was recently hired as a partner at Uniondale-based Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana, worked in Manhattan for more than 20 years, the last 16 at Bennett & Moy, where he was a founding partner. A friend at Forchelli told him about the firm. The Nassau County resident liked the idea of a shorter commute and was impressed with the firm's corporate and trust and estates practice. It's "on par with some of the work I have done and seen in Manhattan," he said.
Law firms aren't the only businesses in Long Island's legal sector; it also includes notaries and title abstract and settlement offices. But lawyers dominate the legal occupation here, Labor Department data show.
As Long Island firms have expanded practices in such areas as intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and securities-firm representation, some managing partners say the strategy has enabled them to attract more business from the city. Large Island firms typically have an office in the city.
Jeffrey D. Forchelli, managing partner of Forchelli Curto, said after the 60-attorney firm expanded its practice in areas such as construction and employment law and mergers and acquisitions, existing clients have increasingly turned to them for work that city firms previously handled.
You can 'lure big clients'"If you provide a comparable service at . . . a better price, yes, you can lure big clients, and we have," said Forchelli, whose firm hired 14 attorneys last year, three of them from firms in the city.
Howard Fensterman, managing partner of Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf in Lake Success, which added 13 attorneys to its roster of 48 last year, half from the city, said that smaller firms have the advantage of lower costs than their Manhattan counterparts, and that their smaller size makes it easier for firm members to function as a team.
"We are much more conscious of cross-marketing . . . and servicing our clients' needs," Fensterman said. "I don't think you can get that in a large firm in Manhattan as easily."
Marc L. Hamroff, managing partner of Garden City-based Moritt Hock & Hamroff, which has hired six attorneys in the past year, including some who worked in the city, said his 60-lawyer firm opened an office in Manhattan three years ago.
"We were able to say that we have all this Long Island support, but we are also physically there as well," Hamroff said. He said the lower overhead allows the firm "to deliver high-quality legal services at a more cost-effective rate to clients."
"New York," said Hamroff, "is a growth area for us."