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South Florida Law Firms Focus on Attracting Talent and Growing Their Markets

When Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC merged with Fowler White Boggs P.A., in March, the combined firm became one of the 100 largest in the United States with nearly 530 attorneys and government relations professionals.

“Fortunately, our firms shared a similar culture in terms of quality of client service and the manner in which we deal with each other,” says Richard A. Morgan, co-managing shareholder, Fort Lauderdale & Miami, for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney/Fowler White Boggs. “These synergies benefit both the firm and our clients in terms of greater efficiencies, added value, and expanded capabilities, particularly in South Florida. At the most fundamental level, we can now provide a far broader range of legal services to a larger client base.”

Based in Tampa, Fowler White Boggs was founded in 1943 and had offices in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Now, the Pittsburgh-based firm — which will be branded as Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC after a year’s transition period — has nearly 30 lawyers in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more than doubling its pre-merger size.

“We expanded our litigation practice,” says Morgan. “The merger has also added local talent in government relations, labor and employment, financial institutions, real estate and land use, and health care, among other specialty areas for which both firms are well known.”

In an improving national economy, South Florida law firms have embarked on a variety of growth strategies, including opening new offices, attracting lateral partners and focusing on internal professional development. Here are several examples of how South Florida firms are positioning themselves for the future.

Adding New Attorneys

 Joseph Bolton

Shutts & Bowen recently opened its eighth Florida office in Sarasota, and is adding new attorneys as well. “We now have approximately 250 attorneys, including 150 in South Florida, and we offer expanded legal services in several areas, including intellectual property and health care,” says Joseph D. Bolton, managing partner of Miami’s oldest law firm. “Throughout our 104-year history, we have always emphasized growth from within as well as selectively recruiting top lateral candidates.”

In attracting laterals, Bolton says the most important elements are having the right platform to build a new partner’s practice. “Collegiality and salary are also important in assuring a good fit for both the attorney and the firm.”

Every year, Shutts & Bowen elevates several associates to partners, as part of its internal development program. “Our associates learn from a group practice area, and we make sure they are exposed to different assignments and projects,” Bolton adds. “Talented attorneys are in short supply in every field, and we pay a great deal of attention to growth within our firm.”

 Patricia Lebow

To the north, Broad and Cassel added seven attorneys to its West Palm Beach office in the past year, says Patricia Lebow, office founder and managing partner. “In addition to commercial litigators, we added Nichole Geary, a healthcare attorney, so that our Florida practice group for health care now extends from Miami to Tallahassee,” says Lebow. “We are definitely a full-service office.”

Other new attorneys include Holly O’Neill, who is double board certified in elder law and estate and trusts, and Mark Osherow, a prominent litigator who is also board certified in business litigation. “We are building on our core group of attorneys, and are very excited about the growth opportunities here,” says Lebow. “The economy has rebounded and we’re seeing more commercial and real estate transactions as well as litigation in healthcare, intellectual property and general civil matters. We are always on the lookout for talented professionals to bring into our firm.”

An Entrepreneurial Approach

 Raquel A. Rodriguez

McDonald Hopkins LLC is growing its South Florida presence and has even bigger plans for the future, says Raquel A. Rodriguez, member of the national firm’s Miami office. Since the beginning of 2013, the firm has recruited five new attorneys in South Florida and now has 13 in West Palm Beach and seven in Miami.

“We have an entrepreneurial growth strategy,” says Rodriguez. “We believe in bringing in skilled attorneys who are aligned with the values of our firm. We would not hire a million-dollar producer who didn’t fit into our culture.” For younger associates, Rodriguez says the firm looks for attorneys who have demonstrated a solid work ethic and the ability to get along with their colleagues at prior firms.”

The firm’s recent hires include Robin Kaplan, whose practice focuses on complex criminal and regulatory defense litigation involving white collar and antitrust matters, and Marc Auerbach, who joins the firm’s national healthcare team, advising physician groups, non-profits, and life sciences companies.

“We are planning for another spurt of growth in Miami and are in the process of tripling our square footage so we can accommodate the additional attorneys and staff,” says Rodriguez. “While South Florida has a deep talent pool in fields like corporate transactions and tax law, it’s hard to find attorneys with experience in biotechnology.”

To grow its internal talent, McDonald Hopkins has a formal program that includes a mentor for every associate, and a professional development “scorecard” that covers a variety of experiences. “We also provide in-house continuing legal education (CLE) courses for our attorneys,” she adds.

Overall, McDonald Hopkins has doubled in size in the past decade and now has nearly 150 attorneys. “We ship work back and forth, especially in the areas of real estate, litigation, appellate work and government relations,” says Rodriguez.

Supporting International Growth

 Patricia Camino and Maria Garcia

To support its “New Globalism” business model, Zumpano Patricios & Winker (ZP&W) recently named Maria D. Garcia and Patricia Camino as co-chairs of the firm’s international satellite offices committee. The two attorneys, who have been with the Coral Gables firm for approximately three years, will serve as the liaisons for the firm’s 16 international Satellite Offices in 14 countries, ranging from Europe, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Asia. These international Satellite Offices complement the firm’s Miami, Chicago, and Salt Lake City offices.

“Maria and Patricia each bring a unique perspective to the model and will help the firm further strengthen and enhance our international footprint,” says Joe Zumpano, president and managing shareholder.

In addition to facilitating communication and cross-selling, Garcia and Camino are responsible for administration and oversight of the firm’s international Satellite Office model, which has now been in operation for over a decade. The two are also responsible for seeking out additional countries for expansion.

“As a mother and attorney, I appreciate ZP&W’s commitment to developing women lawyers as leaders in the firm,” says Garcia, whose practice focuses on healthcare, and international matters, as well as business litigation. “Miami is a natural center for international law, and we strive to build strong relationships with our friends and partners around the world.”

Camino, who focuses on international law and commercial litigation, adds, “ZP&W’s model provides a cooperative forum that empowers our clients and I look forward to contributing to our firm’s progress and development.”

Salaries or Culture?

 John Genovese

When recruiting new associates or experienced laterals, economic issues are generally less important than opportunities to gain experience and grow their fields of practice, says John H. Genovese, partner, Genovese Joblove & Battista in Miami.

“Associates have focused more and more on the experience and culture,” he says. “It’s not just which firm has the highest starting pay or associate salary. We have hired top candidates in the past few years based on the responsibilities they will be getting in a collegial firm environment.”

Noting that GJB recently added an experienced litigator, Genovese said lateral partners look for a firm that will provide them with support and a fair level of compensation. “I also think that the issue of the firm’s stability is also important in a marketplace that has seen layoffs, departing partners and depressed compensation in recent years.”

Genovese says the firm strives to give young lawyers immediate responsibilities that will help them with professional development. “It is not unusual for our younger associates to be in matters where opposing counsel is a partner,” he says. “The key, of course, is responsibility commensurate with ability and appropriate supervision.”

 Richard Morgan

At Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, Morgan has a similar perspective. “All other things being equal, salaries will not govern,” he says. “Young associates want to work on interesting cases with a supportive team. We get our people involved from day one, and we get them in front of clients as soon as possible. We believe that when you listen to the client’s story, you get a better understanding of your role and the client’s goals.”

Morgan’s firm has a formal mentoring program for its associates. “We want to give them support and guidance, and be sure they feel part of our team,” he adds. “This also helps young associates build self confidence, as well as the skills they will need later in their careers.”

Looking at the talent pool for lateral hires, Morgan says it can be hard to find experienced litigators with extensive experience in the courtroom because of the overall decline in trials in the past decade. He adds, “We are always looking for attorneys who have been in trials and have a solid book of business.”

Growth Through Mergers

 Gary Sasso

Last October, Carlton Fields and Jorden Burt announced a merger that resulted in a larger firm with new practice areas. Today, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt has about 370 attorneys with offices in five states and the District of Columbia.

“The fit between our law firms is natural and powerful,” says Gary L. Sasso, president and CEO, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Tampa. “We significantly expanded our national class action defense practice and our insurance industry practice, including regulatory, securities, and product development.  We also expanded our intellectual property, labor and employment, and corporate practices.”

Sasso adds that the merger also deepened the firm’s experience and enhanced its ability to serve clients in sophisticated matters across the country. “The merger provided an opportunity to match strength with strength, putting together highly capable professionals who like and respect each other,” he adds.

 Theodore Leopold

In Palm Beach Gardens, Theodore J. Leopold, founder of Leopold Law, joined the national firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC in January. “This merger positions our firm as one of the largest and most diverse plaintiff firms in Florida and the country,” says Leopold. “This is a partnership built on a shared vision to fighting injustice for plaintiffs through innovative litigation strategy and effective trial work.”

The two firms had worked together on several cases, including Love v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the regional class action gender discrimination complaint lodged against the giant retailer in 2012.

Now, Cohen Milstein has seven attorneys in its Florida office in Palm Beach Gardens and five other locations nationwide, with a total of 85 attorneys. The Florida office practice areas include product liability, commercial litigation, consumer class actions, mass torts, managed care abuse, medical malpractice and major catastrophic injury, as well as new litigation sectors. As Leopold says, “We expect future growth in our Florida office thanks to our expanded capabilities and dedication to serving our clients.”

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