During the 40 years of its existence, Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, DeLaTorre, Mars and Sobel, P.A. (SRHL) has helped clients shape Miami’s world-class skyline. Well-known for their work in construction and real estate law, the firm’s attorneys have also been leaders in serving community associations throughout South Florida as well as business clients with interests locally and around the world.
“I am proud of the longevity of our firm,” said Siegfried managing partner of SRHL, which is based in Coral Gables with offices in Plantation and West Palm Beach. “We have grown through the years to 46 attorneys, now have two generations of partners here with the capability and culture that will allow SRHL to thrive for generations to come.”
Shareholder Lisa Lerner, who joined the firm in 1982, said the SRHL attorneys share their knowledge and experience in related legal fields to advise a loyal base of clients, including more than 200 businesses and 500 homeowner and condominium associations throughout Florida. “Our firm is like a large, extended family,” she said. “We trust each other, taking pride in our personalized professionalism. That makes SRHL a special place to work.”
Launching the Firm
Siegfried grew up in New York, became an attorney and worked for the New York County District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. “I lived on Staten Island and was walking to the ferry in the winter sleet and snow, when I decided it might be nice to live in a warmer climate,” he recalled.
In 1976, Siegfried passed The Florida Bar and accepted a position with real estate developer and attorney Samuel Schoninger, moving to Miami with his wife and his first two children (his third child, Nicholas, is a lawyer who was recently welcomed into partnership at the firm). A year later, Siegfried and Schoninger founded the firm, and, as the business warranted it, brought in additional partners, including Oscar Rivera, Lerner and Helio De La Torre. “Our nucleus has been together for nearly 35 of our 40 years,” Siegfried said. “Our clients in the 1970s and ‘80s included Miami’s leading developers and builders. We are proud that many of them remain our clients to this day.”
Siegfried became one the region’s first construction lawyers, teaching courses at the University of Miami School of Law and writing a 1984 textbook, “Introduction to Construction Law” which is still updated annually. He became a board-certified trial attorney and board certified in construction law. He is also a founding fellow of the American College of Construction Lawyers (ACCL).
Today, construction law is one of the firm’s key areas of expertise. “This field has grown increasingly complex and sophisticated,” said Siegfried. “In recent years, we have been involved in some of the world’s most technologically advanced projects, including the PortMiami tunnel and 1000 Museum Tower, a high-tech condominium tower in downtown Miami.”
On the litigation side, shareholder Stuart Sobel is board-certified in construction law and is a circuit civil mediator who has broad experience presenting the most complicated construction disputes. Also a fellow in the invitation-only ACCL, Sobel has been trying and arbitrating “righteous causes” throughout the United States since 1978.
”Presenting complicated engineering, construction, accounting and insurance concepts to a fact finder in a manner that demonstrates our clients’ entitlement remains a rewarding challenge, even after 38 years of practice,” Sobel says.
Sobel handles large claims for U.S. and international clients. Presently, he represents the subcontractor who fabricated and erected the new canopy over the Miami Dolphin’s Hard Rock Stadium, where there have been 9-figure cost overruns. He also successfully represented the steel fabricator whose steel was incorporated into Freedom Tower at New York’s World Trade Center in a dispute involving approximately $40 million.
Sobel and Siegfried also recently won a $4 million arbitration award on behalf of a small contractor from Barbados and represented Miami Dade College in recovering $33 million related to the collapse of a parking garage (which has now been rebuilt from the ground up).
Through the years, SRHL has handled hundreds of the most complex construction defect matters, ranging from Chinese drywall to roofing, plumbing and elevator problems, as well as post-hurricane insurance claims and rebuilding issues, which implicate the most complicated insurance related issues. “We have represented many condominium associations in their claims for covered losses,” Siegfried said. “We choose to represent policy holders, rather than insurance companies.”
Community Association Law
SRHL has a long history of serving the state’s homeowner and condominium associations. Shareholder Michael L. Hyman began representing community associations in 1970. Two years later, he was appointed by Governor Reuben Askew to the first Florida Condominium Commission. In 1986, he co-authored Florida Condominium Law & Practice, a comprehensive text on condominium associations, and in 1994 he was inducted into the charter class of the College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).
Lerner, considered a leading authority in the field, has served high-rise condo associations and other clients for more than 30 years. She has handled virtually every type of issue that arises in the community association milieu, from drafting governing documents to identifying and implementing solutions for governance, financial and construction issues. “We are now seeing electronic voting in association elections for the first time,” she said. “We are also seeing many communities setting up special assessments to upgrade the common areas, such as the pool and clubhouse, for aesthetic purposes.”
Shareholder De La Torre also practices in community association law as well as construction litigation, litigating the multi-party, multi-issue defect suits that arise out of new construction or conversion of properties to condominium. A frequent speaker at professional seminars, De La Torre is a past president of CAI’s Greater Miami Chapter and was chairman of its Florida Legislative Action Committee.
“We have seen steady growth in the association market, and the types of cases we handle,” he said. “I handle the litigation on the condo aspect of our practice, including some very complex cases, such as Brickell House, a condo with a robotic garage.”
With new condo developments underway throughout the downtown Miami area, De La Torre says some older associations need to be dissolved so aging buildings can be torn down for new construction. “Even some luxury condos from the 1980s and ‘90s are being bought out,” he added. “The market is changing, and there is plenty of construction-related litigation.”
Shareholder Roberto Blanch has been a member of the firm’s community association practice, working with developers as well as associations since 2001. “We are all committed to staying on top of this field,” he said. “Clients expect quick responses and our firm delivers just that. We are also well-versed in handling every aspect of complex transactions and litigation matters.”
“Balancing the needs of a community association is always critical,” said shareholder Gary Mars, who joined the firm in 1991. “Being available to address the simple to the complex, the general operations and litigation concerns in a timely and efficient manner is a service this firm works very hard to provide to our clients. We pride ourselves on the quality and depth of our attorneys, and their ability to provide those necessary skills in all situations.”
Real Estate and Business Law
Shareholder Rivera leads the firm’s Real Estate/Corporate Practice Group. Since 1981 he has represented residential and commercial developers, investment companies, municipalities, lenders and retailers throughout the United States and Latin America.
“Our team has extensive experience in drafting sales, leasing and lending contracts,” said Rivera, who has been a leader in the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). “We also represent a variety of residential developers. Our goal is to create effective solutions for our clients.”
Rivera has guided large real estate investment trusts (REITs), individual and regional developers, property owners and small retailers, including creative restaurant concepts, like Icebox Cafe in Miami Beach. “We’re now working on a public-private partnership in Hallandale for a community food service,” he said.
Looking at current market conditions, Rivera said, “We are now in the seventh-inning stretch of our market cycle. The residential side is generally slowing well. But pay attention to the lenders – when the pace of new loans slows down, that’s when the market will dry up.”
SRHL’s practice areas also include handling the commercial and business matters that our real estate and non-real estate clients face, according to shareholder Elisabeth Kozlow. Since joining the firm in 1988, her areas of practice include aviation transactions, commercial leasing and real estate transactions and she serves as outside corporate counsel to domestic and international corporations. She served as chairperson of the Aviation Law Committee of The Florida Bar and has been a member of the committee for several years, and has also been involved in ICSC.
Reflecting on the firm’s focus serving the changing business needs of its clients, Kozlow said, “The nature of our practice leads us to develop expertise in fields related to our core competencies. As a boutique firm committed to excellence, we will continue to deliver that highly personalized service in the future. We have grown with our clients and take great pride in providing the highest quality legal representation while being mindful of our clients’ bottom line.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition