- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

Above the Law COLUMN:

As stock-market investors watch their investments plunge from financial firm failures, lawyers are worrying about their job security.

Financial firms are major employers for lawyers.

“The impact on the credit market means less deal flow, which means less income flow,” said Justin Bernold, director of legal recruiting firm Lateral Link. “Associates [lawyers] are beginning to see more turmoil in the financial market trickling down into their careers.”

Lateral Link surveyed about 830 lawyers and law students nationwide about how the Wall Street meltdown of the past two weeks will affect them.

About 42 percent of lawyers say collapsing financial markets are likely to damage their careers, according to the survey.

The results varied between regions. In New York, 55 percent of lawyers said their careers would be hurt, but only 37 percent were worried in Washington.

Some of the New York refugees are knocking on the doors of Washington law firms, according to Lateral Link.

“I think a lot of folks are just looking nationally wherever they can,” Mr. Bernold said. “D.C. is one of the first places they would look because it’s relatively close, relatively easy to waive in and a large legal market.” “Waiving in” refers to getting a court’s permission to practice law in a different state or jurisdiction.

For some firms, the Wall Street meltdown creates merely a shift in priorities. The portion of their business that deals in contracts and securities might be falling, but their bankruptcy business is picking up. They also expect to handle more litigation from investors anxious to sue over their dropping stock and bond values.

“In the wake of the last week, they’re actually going gangbusters,” Mr. Bernold said.

In other news …

cA federal court decision last week sided with George Washington University in determining the extent to which security personnel can be considered negligent for failing to protect people near public buildings or events.

In essence, the court said internal memos telling guards how to protect a site are recommendations, not official legal standards for determining whether they can be sued when someone is injured by a criminal act.

The decision could be important for the Washington area, where public buildings are a significant part of the landscape and many of them are used to host public events.

Security is “very important” to Washington’s visitors, said Rebecca Pawlowski, spokeswoman for Destination D.C., the District’s official convention and tourism organization. “Visitors want to go to places where they feel safe and comfortable.”

The ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arose from the March 27, 2005, fatal stabbing of Ranjit Singh, a 20-year-old college student from New Jersey attending a George Washington University South Asian Society cultural dance and party.

He was stabbed to death around 2:45 a.m. during an argument on the sidewalk outside the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Singh’s parents sued George Washington University and the government security contractors who are supposed to guard the Old Post Office Pavilion.

Their attorney argued the security personnel were negligent because they did not adequately watch the building exits and area outside the party. The guards could have prevented the murder by intervening before the stabbing, the attorney argued.

The Singhs’ evidence included a Homeland Security Department Building Security Assessment describing how guards should protect the Old Post Office Pavilion. They were supposed to patrol the perimeter of the building, according to the internal memo.

The Singhs lost their first lawsuit against George Washington University in 2005 but sued again when they discovered the memo.

The Singhs said the guards failed to patrol the perimeter, which they said was a “mandatory policy” under the memo.

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said the Building Security Assessment was “merely a set of recommendations” for the guards, but does not determine their liability to the Singhs.

The Building Security Assessment, like many security plans commonly used by the government, “is discretionary,” Judge Collyer wrote in denying the Singhs’ claim for damages. “It does not require any specific course of action by the government.”

Above the Law runs on Mondays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail.

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