Sunday, July 17, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Constance Akridge once considered a journalism career but switched gears and pursued a law degree, beginning to practice in Florida in 1983. But after being admitted to Nevada’s bar in 1988, she found there was more to her profession than running a busy private practice. She also wanted to get to know and work with other attorneys, a role she enjoyed as president of the Clark County Bar Association.
Akridge, 57, just began a one-year term as president of the State Bar of Nevada, which represents more than 8,200 active attorneys. The bar admits new lawyers to the state, offers continuing education to attorneys, disciplines for ethical lapses and provides the public with lawyer referral services.
As a partner at Jones Vargas, one of the state’s largest law firms, she specializes in insurance and health care law.
Has the rough economy affected any particular specialties within the law profession?
Definitely. I can see it in my own law firm. The people who were doing real estate law in the past are having a difficult time because they’re not doing real estate transactions. They’re doing either foreclosures or workout work, where you have somebody upside down on a commercial lease and they work out deals with the lenders in terms of accepting less than was due under the agreement. A lot of clients we used to have in the real estate area aren’t in business anymore because they’re not building the houses and doing the deals they did before. A lot of clients are having a difficult time. So you may get less work from them.
Are law firms readjusting their specialties because of the economy?
Yes. Whoever has a bankruptcy department, that department likely has grown. Now it’s huge.
Do you see any evidence that companies are trying to save money by cutting down on their requests for legal help?
I think that’s fair to say. A lot of small businesses, they don’t have the same revenue they had in the past, so they don’t have the same litigation or legal budget.
Has the economy affected law firms in Southern Nevada to the point where there have been layoffs?
You heard that back when the economy started crashing in 2008. But I think people are hiring again. It’s not going to be a dramatic rise but I think you’re seeing an improvement in business.
Are there certain trends you’re seeing in pro bono work?
It used to be in good times that it was family law-related issues that pro bono attorneys would primarily handle. Now you’re seeing not only family law issues, but you’re also seeing a lot of consumer issues, the foreclosure mediation problems. You’re seeing debt issues, a lot of bankruptcy. So people who are really suffering are coming to the pro bono programs like the Senior Citizens Law Project and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of pro bono work, but there is always use for more, especially in these hard economic times.
What is the biggest problem facing Nevada’s courts?
We have a Supreme Court with one of the largest caseloads in the country. We had the ballot measure we tried to pass last year for the intermediate appellate court. That would have lightened that load and downloaded all of the error correction cases to the intermediate appellate court. We’re still hopeful that will pass in the future. The consequences of that caseload is that there are only so many cases the Supreme Court can handle at a time. If we had an intermediate appellate court that just did error correction, that would free up the Supreme Court to spend its time doing cases that would set precedent, which would give attorneys more direction in terms of what the law is in this state. That’s why all of us will work to make sure it passes the next time around.