A BETTER 2021? Attorneys plan for, predict legal trends for this year.

Byline: Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

As the first month of 2021 comes to a close, it's unclear if this year will bring the fresh start and return to normalcy that so many are waiting to see.

But so far in the legal world at least, 2021 has brought little change from the past year.

Paul Curtis, chair of Axley Brynelson's litigation practice, said his hopes that this year would be different began to wobble when he started seeing trial dates dropped from his calendar.

"I don't know why, but I was thinking beginning in January, it will be a trial a month, and it's going to be a busy year, but here we are," Curtis said. "Just this past week I had two long trials drop off my calendar."

Curtis is far from alone. COVID-19 will continue to dominate the outlook for Wisconsin attorneys in a range of practices this year.


The pace of bankruptcy filings in 2021 will most likely mirror that for 2020, one of the slowest years for filings in a long time, said Craig Stevenson, bankruptcy group chair at DeWitt and board member of the State Bar of Wisconsin's Bankruptcy, Insolvency and Creditors' Rights Committee.

Right now, Stevenson said, many people are able to stave off declaring bankruptcy because of federal assistance from Paycheck Protection Program loans and other initiatives.

"A lot of people debtors and creditors are living in this limbo, and those programs are keeping them from having to make some of the types of decisions that they're forced to make that end up resulting in bankruptcy filing," Stevenson said.

Once government assistance and moratoriums end, courts will probably see an influx of filings. Stevenson said chances are strong that President Joe Biden's administration will extend the moratoriums until the end of the year.

The flood of filings, he predicts, probably won't come until the second or third quarter of 2022. But he's also be careful to take every moratorium that's handed down on its own terms.

"It's anybody's guess if the negotiations will produce on some of the Biden administration's proposed measures," Stevenson said. "I think everybody's optimistic because things are moving, but it's wait and see."


In construction law, the future will largely depend on what clients want and are willing to do, said Roy Wagner, leader of Michael Best's construction law group.

"Construction lawyers will be driven by clients' experiences," Wagner said. "The uncertainty of what the new normal will be will also fit what the lawyer is experiencing."

The pandemic fell hard on certain segments of the construction industry, such as retail and entertainment. Throughout it all, though, industrial construction and infrastructure managed to thrive. Wagner predicts they will continue to do so under the Biden administration.

"For lawyers, we like the idea that we help people build, but we also try to solve problems and reduce tension," Wagner said. "We need to be able to help our clients address those industries that have tension and be sympathetic."

Innovation in the construction industry had been gaining steam before COVID, Wagner said, and the pandemic has only increased the need to adopt new technologies. Work with web- and cloud-based software, drones, GPS to track people and equipment, and other systems will continue into 2021 and well beyond.

Criminal defense

Bri Meyer, an associate at GRGB Law practicing criminal defense, divides her predictions on 2021 between what she thinks will happen before courts fully reopen and what...

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