A Focus on Florida
|James Berger, Paul Singerman and Mitchell Berger|
Mitchell W. Berger says there’s a simple reason for a law firm’s success. “You need to follow the golden rule and treat clients like you would want to be treated,” says the founder and co-chair of Berger Singerman. “Clients appreciate talented lawyers who speak their minds, but a firm’s culture should always encourage civility — not going over the line.”
Since founding the firm in 1985 in Fort Lauderdale, Berger has taken that approach to client service with excellent results. Today the business law firm has four offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Tallahassee with more than 75 attorneys in four teams: business reorganization; business, finance and tax; dispute resolution; and government and regulatory.
Reflecting on the firm’s early history, James Berger, managing partner, says, “My brother Mitchell was in Tennessee doing work for a client on litigation involving land in Aventura, while I was practicing in Texas doing work for the same client. Mitchell moved here in 1985 and opened the firm, and I followed a year later.”
During its first decade, the firm focused primarily on litigation, corporate transactions and real estate, with a small, one-attorney office in Tallahassee. New attorneys came aboard, as the firm expanded its client base. In 1997, Paul Steven Singerman joined the firm as co-CEO bringing his Miami-based bankruptcy practice. “Since then we have never engaged in a merger or acquisition,” says James Berger. “We take pride in the way our attorneys and talented non-lawyer professionals combine their talents to give our clients responsive and efficient client service.”
Through the years, the firm’s attorneys have handled a wide range of major cases. Mitchell Berger has assisted numerous Fortune 500 companies in commercial disputes, and represented Vice President Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman in the post-2000 election Florida lawsuits in Bush v. Gore. “We have had opportunities to go into other fields, such as family law, but we have retained our focus on the business side,” he says.
A fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy, Singerman concentrates his practice in troubled loan workouts, insolvency matters and commercial transactions. He is counsel to Judge Herbert Stettin as Chapter 11 Trustee for the law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, P.A. in the largest Ponzi scheme in Florida history involving approximately $1.2 billion.
James Berger’s practice consists primarily of representing real estate related businesses and developers in connection with purchase and sale transactions, development projects and financing transactions. His practice has also recently focused on representing large real estate funds in the acquisition of troubled projects, including a failed mall, a broken condominium facility and an over leveraged resort property. “We still do work for the real estate client we represented back in 1985,” he adds. “We also continue to represent entrepreneurial businesses, along with our large-scale corporate clients.”
Focusing on Florida
While other Florida law firms have become national and international in scope, Berger Singerman has continued to focus on Florida matters. “The legal community knows we are a Florida firm that can handle major litigation, transactions and bankruptcy matters,” says Mitchell Berger.
Singerman adds that the firm doesn’t measure success by the number of attorneys or offices. “We always want to have three lawyers less than we need,” he says, adding “Our vision is a Florida law firm that has treasured relationships with firms in other states.”
During the economic downturn, the firm’s bankruptcy practice received the most attention in regional and national media, according to James Berger. “That’s been the backbone of our success in recent years,” he adds. “While many firms have conflicts with their bankruptcy clients, we have structured our business plan to stay more nimble. Paul’s team attracts bankruptcy work, which often leads to transactional work, so we all keep busy.”
Berger adds that the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution practices have doubled in size over the past five years. Other growth areas are corporate transactions, securities and regulatory matters. In addition, the firm continues to add bilingual lawyers to service its international clients.
Singerman notes that the firm has a low attrition rate. “Our lawyers appreciate the attention they receive from the firm’s leadership and our commitment to reinvesting in the firm and the professional development of each lawyer.”
In the Community
Mitchell Berger believes that attorneys need to be closely connected to the communities they serve, and take leadership positions in political, civic and charitable activities. A longtime Democratic party insider, Berger has been active in the last ten presidential campaigns. He has also been involved with Nova Southeastern University (NSU) for more than 20 years, and has served on the university’s board of trustees. In 1997, Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Berger to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District, and in 1998 President Clinton named him to chair the national Student Loan Marketing Association.
His brother James has been involved in many South Florida organizations, and led a capital campaign for Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County and served as pro bono counsel to Jack and Jill Children’s Center. Another partner who is involved in the community is Jordi Guso, who received the 2012 Pro Bono Award from Dade Legal Aid and Put Something Back for his service to Miami-Dade organizations.
Singerman, one of the initial officers of the Bankruptcy Bar Foundation which raises money for pro bono bankruptcy work in South Florida, says the firm is fully committed to giving back to the community. “For our 20th anniversary, we held a reception at the Museum of Discovery and Science to introduce a number of South Florida charities to our attorneys, clients and friends,” he says. “We were glad to provide them with financial support in the form of $200,000 in donations from our firm, as well. For our 25th anniversary we had a similar event and donated $250,000 to charities in the markets in which we practice.”
Singerman expects South Florida’s economic recovery to pick up steam in the next two years. “That will provide a chance to showcase our talent in areas that have not been in high demand,” he says. “Our business finance and tax team is extraordinary, in transactional, tax and estate planning matters.”
He also expects to see a resumption of real estate development and transaction activity, including land use and environmental matters. “I’m very bullish about this next cycle,” Singerman adds. “The business reorganization team will continue to be busy in our market, while the spotlight will shine on our colleagues on the firm’s other teams.”
Mitchell Berger agrees with that forecast. “New businesses will be formed throughout Florida to support new ideas in areas like biotech and alternative energy, helping to uplift the state’s economy,” he says. “With Florida’s growing national and international connections, our firm will help facilitate the flow of capital and play an important role in the future of our state.”
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