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LI: a hot venue for law firms

Competition among law firms that advise Long Island

companies on employment issues has taken on a new flavor: More outside firms

are battling for the local turf.

The latest outsider to hang out a shingle is Littler Mendelson, a San

Francisco-based law firm that bills itself as the largest U.S. practice

specializing solely in labor and employment law. It opened an office in

Melville just over two weeks ago.

Like many firms with expertise in this legal niche, Littler Mendelson

advises companies on a variety of employment issues ranging from labor laws to

union contract negotiations. It has 34 offices nationwide and 475 attorneys,

including five on Long Island.

"Long Island is perceived as a hot area for a firm that represents

companies," said attorney John Bauer, who works in the Melville office. "A fair

number of national companies are based on Long Island. As a national firm, we

are attracted to companies like that."

Sexual harassment, racial discrimination, age bias and overtime violations

are some of the most common issues lawyers face when they advise Long Island

companies on labor and employment issues, attorneys and other workplace experts

said.

At stake for these law firms are the hearts and wallets of Long Island

corporate clients. Competition for large companies here could be fierce because

most of the Island's estimated 93,000 companies are small and midsize

businesses.

Still, many of the smaller businesses lack human-resources departments to

advise on employment matters, so they turn to lawyers. The lawyers advise them

on routine labor and employment issues or represent them on more pressing

matters, such as a lawsuit or a Labor Department investigation.

An LI connection

In that race for corporate clients, firms with a Long Island presence

appear to have the edge. "Most of the companies on Long Island tend to use Long

Island firms," said Louis DiLorenzo of Bond, Schoeneck & King, a

Syracuse-based law firm that opened an office here two years ago.

While a local presence may be key, the size of that presence doesn't

necessarily matter if you have the backing of a large national parent,

according to Bauer of Littler Mendelson. "You get the resources of the entire

firm regardless of what office you're in," he said.

In 2004, Bond, Schoeneck & King opened its Garden City office, which has 11

labor and employment lawyers. Opening on the Island is part of the Syracuse

firm's strategy to represent companies throughout New York State, said

DiLorenzo, who is the managing partner for its Garden City and New York City

offices. The latter office also opened in 2004.

He said the firm has the largest labor and employment practice in Syracuse,

with 24 lawyers; in Buffalo, with nine; and in Albany, with six. "We are

focusing on becoming the premier labor and employment practice throughout New

York State only," DiLorenzo said.

So establishing offices in the metropolitan area was key. "What we were

missing is a presence in New York City and Long Island," DiLorenzo said.

The key to the clients

But one Long Island-based firm believes that having a headquarters here

carries an even greater advantage.

"The fact that we are Long Island-based and home-grown is of assistance to

us," said Ilene Cooper, a partner at Farrell Fritz, which is based in Uniondale

and has four offices on Long Island and one in Manhattan. "We aren't strangers

infiltrating the territory."

Outside firms' interest in Long Island reflects the growing national

presence of the largest companies here. "Most companies of any size are not

just Long Island companies but national companies," said Robert Lipman of

Lipman and Plesur, the Jericho law firm that counsels companies and employees.

"So the law firms have to be national companies as well."

Long Island has more than 100 lawyers who practice labor and employment

law, according to Lexis-Nexis, the research-services company.

Roots growing deeper

One of the longtime outside firms, Jackson Lewis, which is based in White

Plains, opened in Melville in 1990 and now has 26 attorneys here, making it one

of the largest such practices on Long Island. "We have a very loyal client

base of people we have worked with for a very long time," said partner Paul

Siegel. One of Jackson Lewis' first clients was Astoria Federal Savings, he

said. Later, Greenpoint Bank, which was acquired by North Fork Bank, was a

client, he said.

At least one Long Island-based firm is building a national presence in the

opposite direction. Kaufman, Dolowich, Schneider, Bianco & Voluck, a Woodbury

law firm, opened an office in Manhattan and San Francisco in the past two

weeks. The firm, which has 22 lawyers, also has offices in Pennsylvania and New

Jersey. "We have lot of private clients and insurance clients that have needs

across the country," said managing partner Michael Kaufman.

The Island doesn't always work out for newcomers. Grotta, Glassman &

Hoffman, the Roseland, N.J., law firm that opened in Melville several years

ago, shut down last month. A spokeswoman declined to say why the firm closed.

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