NJBIZ - Levitt and Slafkes Beyond The Law

Beyond the law: Today's attorneys find that knowing their field means studying more than its legal element

By Brett Johnson, November 14, 2016 at 3:00 AM

ImageStepping outside the bounds of the legal field has become, somewhat paradoxically, a point of differentiation for those in specialized legal areas.

And the outside field is not always directly related to their law practice.

Shelley Slafkes sought education outside of the legal framework to complement her work at the bankruptcy law firm she co-founded in Maplewood, Levitt & Slafkes P.C.

Just over a decade after founding the firm with husband Bruce Levitt, Slafkes earned a master of social work from Rutgers University and became a licensed social worker.

"Sometimes I think I use those skills here more than I would in social work positions," she said. "It's a very emotional area of the law. People come to us with all sorts of problems. You have to be able to make them feel comfortable, to be caring and compassionate.

"That, in turn, makes for a better practice, because people open up and talk to you when (you come from a social work background). You get a bigger picture, which is important, especially for this area of the law."

Any advantage she can garner for her practice is welcome, given that her specialized law firm has to fight for all the business it gets.

Her husband and business partner, Levitt, explained that's a product of the number of consumer bankruptcy filings decreasing every year for several years in a row.

"There's also just not many commercial bankruptcies in New Jersey; you look at the state of the economy and wonder why there isn't more," he said. "But as a result of bankruptcy not being as plentiful, some that were doing it have been getting out."

Slafkes feels her specialty degree will help her firm stay relevant.

ImageThere is no scarcity of niche and often wildly complicated specialty areas within the legal profession.

And they are changing every day.

That's why lawyers should never stop learning, experts say; more so, lawyers should never stop thinking about the next big thing in law.

In the past decade, specialties connected to health care, life sciences, compliance and cybersecurity have grown tremendously, according to Max Crane of Newark-based Sills Cummis & Gross P.C.

Crane said lawyers in these fields can never have enough personal experience related to them.

As for the future, Crane feels one specialty area has the potential for explosive growth. He's just not sure how lawyers can properly train for it.

"It always brings a snicker," he said, "but the fact is that the cannabis sector is becoming a bigger and bigger industry nationwide.

"My personal instinct is that it's only a matter of time before it comes front and center in this state as well. And the legal aspects will be a big deal."

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Levitt & Slafkes, P.C.
515 Valley Street
Suite 140
Maplewood, NJ 07040
Phone: 973-323-2953
Fax: 973-313-1240