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Corporate lawyers face brave new world as business practices change with times

By: Special to The Daily Record//November 22, 2022

Corporate lawyers face brave new world as business practices change with times

By: Special to The Daily Record//November 22, 2022//

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From data privacy and securities offerings to mergers and acquisitions and spin-offs, corporate lawyers are often the quarterbacks of important business transactions – executing precise moves and using excellent communication skills to ensure the team remains smart and successful.

Per the American Bar Association, the specialty of business and corporate law runs the gamut in terms of industry and focus and can include work in bankruptcy, collections, contracts, commercial transactions, community and economic development, franchising, financial services, fidelity and surety, partnerships, commercial transactions, and many other areas.

No two practices are exactly the same when it comes to corporate attorneys. To learn more about corporate law and where the specialty is headed in the year ahead, the Rochester Business Journal spoke with three area corporate attorneys with vast and varied experience in the field.

The quarterback in transactions

“As corporate lawyers we often function as the quarterback in transactions,” said Eric Tanck, a partner in the M&A and Corporate Transactions group at Nixon Peabody, about one of his biggest roles assisting clients.

Tanck’s practice has an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions, commercial transactions, and the formation, financing, and growth of business enterprises. He works with businesses and corporations of all sizes, from Fortune 500 multinationals with thousands of employees to startups with no employees yet, and “everything in between.” Some have in-house counsel who he assists with specialized needs or connects with other attorneys in the firm’s area of need.

His journey to corporate law was a bit untraditional – he was a machinist apprentice out of high school through Monroe Community College’s precision machining program. Later, he went back to school with a general interest in law that grew as he learned more about the business aspect of the legal profession.

Among the things Tanck enjoys about corporate law specifically is that it’s often collaborative, can involve a lot of deal-making while helping two parties work towards the same goal, calls upon precision in contract drafting, and overall, taps into the need for finding creative solutions to issues that businesses and corporations are facing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest change Tanck saw to his practice was video conferencing becoming standard over telephone conferencing, something he believes has been a change for the better. For example, he has clients based in Europe he had never seen before the pandemic made video conferencing the norm.

Yet, while technology has been a boon for communication, it has also raised new concerns for corporations. Tanck believes data privacy and cybersecurity concerns will be one of the biggest areas where corporate attorneys will be most needed by their clients in the year ahead.

He also anticipates there will be more companies engaged in and exploring corporate venture capital (also called corporate venturing), which typically involves a larger corporation directly investing corporate funds into an early-stage external startup company.

Tanck also expects to see more clients asking for support with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Earlier this year, Nixon Peabody launched a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Services offering to provide organizations with the legal, strategic, and practical advice to build more inclusive organizations and create a positive impact.

“Our firm has been doing this type of work for a long time, and forming this group came about organically over the past 18 months as a direct response to needs we see with clients and in the marketplace more generally,” said Stacie Collier, a partner, and chief talent officer at Nixon Peabody, in March 2022 when the offering was announced. “Even clients with well-established internal DEI teams are looking for advisors who understand best practices, trends, and larger-scale issues impacting various industries.”

A trusted advisor over time

“What I love about corporate law is that you get to know your clients and their business well,” said Katarina B. Polozie, a partner in Woods Oviatt Gilman’s Business and Finance Department. “You partner with them and become a trusted advisor over time.”

Polozie concentrates her practice on mergers and acquisitions, private equity, complex commercial transactions, data privacy and cybersecurity. She’s a Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) which is an industry gold standard credential in the area of privacy and data protection law and practice.

She particularly enjoys helping companies create internal and external privacy policies and spending time helping them understand complicated cybersecurity and data privacy issues.

Polozie works with a diverse range of businesses from local start-up ventures to multinational corporations, across a wide swath of industries including construction, food product services, human resources, and software.

“I have an incredibly broad practice,” said Polozie, who knew from a young age she wanted to be a corporate attorney – so much so that she took all business law classes in law school. “On any given day I could be helping with the sale of a 50-million-dollar business, the succession plan of a 6-million-dollar business or counseling a start-up.”

One of the biggest continued needs Polozie sees for businesses and corporations of all sizes in the year ahead is cybersecurity and data privacy – an area that believes is not a trend, not going away in the years ahead, and only growing in need.

Being part of their team

“The days I like the most are days when I’m talking to clients and counseling them,” said Steven Solomon, a partner with Harter Secrest & Emery, about what he enjoys most about being a corporate and business lawyer. “I think the best work a corporate attorney can offer a client is being part of their team.”

Solomon serves as primary outside counsel to start-ups, closely held and mid-sized private companies. He guides startups through critical early decisions, including formation and ownership structure to support strategic growth, raising funds through private placements, and business succession planning.

“To me, being available to answer any question that arises from a client is important,” said Solomon, who is a Rochester native and was drawn to business law while in law school. “So is triaging issues and knowing when to get another lawyer involved.”

While about 50% of Solomon’s work is transactional in nature, he always tries to make sure the relationship between himself and his clients does not feel transactional. He enjoys getting to know his clients and their businesses and staying with them for their company lifespan – he has numerous clients he began working with as start-ups that are now well-established.

In the year ahead Solomon expects his practice will see a continued increase in business succession planning due to the aging of the nation’s population, as well as an increase in the need for legal counseling on best practices in cybersecurity and privacy.

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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