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Mark NeJame meets with senior immigration attorney Shahzad Ahmed

NeJame opens new practice division to stave off downturn

Attorney Mark NeJame has watched the rise and fall of the local economy.

In fact, the founder and senior partner for the Orlando-based NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Ahmed, Barker & Joshi PA defense law firm has led his own business through the same ups and downs.

For example, the firm lost some clients as a result of the recession, and it laid off roughly five staff members about nine months ago to reduce overhead costs. In addition, revenue dropped 8 percent from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009.

The 15-year-old firm, which is on the 18th floor of The Plaza’s south tower, declined to share exact revenue figures, but NeJame said the average hourly rate ranges from $200-$600.

However, the law firm’s first-quarter year-over-year revenue is up 30 percent from 2008 to 2009. NeJame credits that to expanding practice areas to include commercial business litigation, immigration law and personal injury when the economy began to slow in late 2007.

The new practice areas are doing well because they generate business related to the weak economy, such as bankruptcy filings and corporate litigation.

There’s plenty of business in those areas: The amount of civil filings in Central Florida has more than tripled from three years ago. Civil filings include everything from commercial and business litigation to fraud.

More than 47,000 civil cases were filed in 2008, up more than 200 percent from 2006’s 14,525 cases and up 91 percent from 2007’s 24,608 cases, according to data from the 9th Judicial Circuit Court, which serves Orange and Osceola counties.

The recent jumps in litigation are mainly due to the fallout of the economy, said Frank Pohl of Winter Park-based Pohl & Short PA, a business and commercial law firm. Business closings sometimes leave clients and vendors with unpaid debt. “It’s a domino effect that’s part of a down economy.”

The growing need in those areas allowed NeJame to gradually increase the staff to 11 lawyers and 15 staff members since early 2008, up from seven lawyers and 11 staff members in first-quarter 2008. Further, NeJame plans to search for two new attorneys and additional support staff within a few months.

Even with the success of the new practice areas, NeJame’s firm hasn’t been impervious to other challenges. For example, it has seen more clients having difficulty paying for services, so it has formulated payment plans for some of them, when appropriate.

In another cost-cutting move, the firm stopped offering 401(k) plans to new hires, and existing employees are seeing slight decreases in the firm’s contributions to their retirement plans.

In addition, new policies were enacted, such as getting cell phone plans for attorneys, cheaper services fees for Internet and office phones, and buying less costly paper for printers — reducing the firm’s overhead costs by more than $30,000 annually.

Going into the second quarter, NeJame said his strategy is to organize “a plan to maintain a stable, consistent revenue stream that isn’t subject to peaks and valleys.”

NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Ahmed, Barker & Joshi PA

Numbers: First-quarter 2009 revenue grew 30 percent when compared with the same period last year. However, it dropped 8 percent from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009.
Employees: 11 lawyers and 15 staff, up from seven lawyers and 11 staff in first-quarter 2008
Victory: Opening new practice divisions
Challenge: Overcoming a month-by-month fluctuation in profits

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Business Journal
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