Law Firm Panel
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By Andrea Richard | Photography by Patrick Clinton
SFBW hosted a law panel with lawyers representing different areas of practice. In conjunction with the law list, this roundtable was held to dive deeper into the growing areas of the law and how the legislation is affecting clients. Editor Kevin Gale moderated the discussion over breakfast, which was hosted at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
• Charles Caulkins, partner at Fisher Phillips.
• Rebecca Bratter, deputy managing shareholder at Greenspoon
• Mark Raymond, managing partner at Broad and Cassel.
• Michael Mueller, partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth.
• Mitch Burnstein, managing director at Weiss Serota Helfman
Cole & Bierman.
• Beth Alcalde, managing partner at Akerman.
• Gary Rosen, CEO and managing shareholder at Becker.
• Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder at Greenberg Traurig.
• Greg Schwinghammer Jr., shareholder at Gunster.
The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What practice groups are growing at your firm?
Burnstein: Our labor and employment have gotten a lot of interesting things going on. There’s a lot of training with “Me Too.” Our real estate and corporate practices are doing well. There’s less workouts in the aftermath of the financial crisis so that people who were doing foreclosures or doing post-foreclosure deals, I think that has slowed down. We have a significant public practice that’s steady and slowly growing.
Alcalde: At Akerman, we’ve grown tremendously in Texas because of the energy sector in all angles: litigation, transactional, regulatory. We’ve grown in middle-market estate, real estate.
Mueller: We just merged with another firm so we picked up, I think about another 170 lawyers, 58 of those are litigators, which is the mainstay of our firm. When we picked up the litigators, we picked up a huge intellectual property practice.We picked up a very big oil and gas practice in Houston. But, organically, our privacy and data security practice is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s an issue facing all companies. We are No. 1 in [Chambers and Partners’ ranking] for data security and privacy issues. We’ve handled many corporate breaches and the follow-on litigation.
Davis: Across the board we are seeing a lot of growth. Private equity has been on the uptick, so we are seeing a lot of large-scale PE deals. Our venture capital group is busy as well. On the real estate side, residential, industrial, and commercial have been very hot. Immigration work is on the uptick; EB-5 [employment-based visas] is still strong. And niche practices, GDPR [the General Data Policy Regulation], a European [data privacy] law, is terrifying a lot of our Fortune 500 companies, so we are getting a lot of work from that. Blockchain has been very strong, so we are seeing lots of ICO [initial coin offerings] and still seeing where the SEC is coming down with its regulations. We have a drone practice group and are doing a lot of work with public-private partnerships in that area.
Raymond: Starting off on P3s [public-private partnerships] like Greenberg, we are doing a lot of that, but in Latin America. In fact, there’s a group from Honduras that was just in our office on a project. Real estate is extremely strong, and we have to find lawyers to fill that need, which remains a challenge. Areas that are growing? I would say because of the changes in tax laws, we’ve added more tax lawyers, more wealth management lawyers. And I’ve had more and more meetings with men and women executives with private businesses with large incomes out of New York, relocating to Florida. We are advising them on that, and that’s a big new area in the last nine months.
Schwinghammer: Following up on what Mark just said, the tax law change makes Florida even more attractive to people from New York, Connecticut, California. Being a right-to-work state is also great. There are lots of businesses moving into Palm Beach County. We’ve had a Fortune 50 company move its national headquarters out of the northeast into Palm Beach County. We’ve seen growth in EB-5 litigation, when things aren’t done right and there’s a bunch of people investing money and then the money is not used the right way. And there’s growth in real estate and corporate transactional and employment law.
Rosen: There are three areas that are driving growth for us right now. We are experiencing growth with our P3 practice. We are very privileged representing Nova Southeastern University in connection with a significant P3 project [the Academical Village, which will include a hospital, research park, office space, a hotel and conference center, retail shops, restaurants and apartments] underway, right now for them. In addition, our government relations practice has been growing over the past couple of years. We have local and federal lobby teams, which we are enjoying great revenue growth there. Since the inception of the firm, our construction practice has been a key driver for our success and it continues to grow, coming out of the Great Recession. Our construction group has come out very strong and our firm is ranked No. 1 [by Chambers] in construction, and we have the largest number of board-certified construction lawyers in the state of Florida.
Caulkins: Our practice is focused on labor and employment. One word for us: California. We have five offices there, and we can’t hire enough lawyers to handle the work there.
Are you planning to open new offices in the future?
Caulkins: We’ve opened in New York, and by the end of the year, we expect to open two more offices around the country.
Mueller: We picked up a small Boston litigation boutique separate from the merger I talked about earlier. We just opened an office in Dubai, because we have a huge energy practice and it made sense to be there. We do a lot of work out of Brussels and Texas. Now Dubai is the place to be for a lot of things, but certainly energy.
Burnstein: Last year, we opened our third office, which is in Boca Raton. We are pretty committed to South Florida. We do work in different parts of the state, but we primarily work in the tri-county area. We are a midsize firm with 70 lawyers. I don’t see us opening another office anytime soon unless a big opportunity fell into our laps, the Boca office is doing well. As it was pointed out, Palm Beach County is a big deal and we are getting a lot of growth there.
Raymond: We’ve opened in Palm Beach, on the island. We’ve been in West Palm Beach for 40 years, but people prefer not to come across the bridge, so it’s better for our clients to have us closer.
What legislation is impacting your clients?
Davis: As I mentioned, GDPR. It’s basically a European Union regulation that if you are doing operations in the EU, it affects you. The EU takes privacy more seriously than any other jurisdiction in the world. And what’s spooking the Fortune 500 companies are the consequences of violating the law, which hits a percentage of your profits. Our clients are getting geared up to become compliant with it.
Raymond: I’ve asked our banking people about your question. And the difficulty with this is that regulations are becoming laxer, but they expect them to go back whether it’s two years or four years. The questions they are asking general counsel: Do we tailor back? Or do we stay based on the stricter regulations?
Alcalde: Going back to the tax bill but with a different angle, there’s a lot of executive compensation revisions buried deep within the tax bill that have led to some interesting discussions with higher-education clients. So, universities that are paying well over $1 million to coaches or presidents, often after they’ve performed badly, in getting a stream of payouts after they leave, have some significant tax consequences if they are not timely redone. The tax team is happy to say they’ve gotten interesting sports-related work in the executive compensation area as a byproduct of the tax bill.
Mueller: In the appropriation bill that the President Trump signed on March 23, they slipped in a provision on tip pooling. This is important for hotels, restaurants and so on. The goal was to overrule it. The legislation intended to expand it again so nontraditional employees, like cooks and dishwashers, can share in that. The legislature said that managers and supervisors couldn’t share in that but it doesn’t define what managers and supervisors are. This has created confusion and the Department of Labor came in with advice on April 6, reporting who is a manager, who is a supervisor.
Burnstein: Our firm is very much affected by what happens in Tallahassee, because we represent lots of local governments. There’s often friction between local governments and the state capital. The pendulum swings in terms of who wants more control. One of the things that’s greatly going to affect our clients is what’s on the ballot for November, the constitutional amendments. One of those amendments is going to increase a third homestead exemption, and there’s a lot of pressure. That needs a 60 percent vote. What that’s going to do is drain money from local governments. You are going to hear a lot more about this. If that is passed, counties and cities will have less money to spend on local projects.
Caulkins: In the same appropriations bill, there’s some language in there about settlements of harassment claims and the settlement money, and the lawyer fees are not tax deductible if you have a confidentiality clause. How that is going to work out and what that means is really up in the air.
What are some new and emerging legal issues affecting your clients?
Bratter: Recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make electronically stored information such as e-mails, instant messages, voicemails, e-calendars, graphics and data on handheld devices discoverable in litigation. What challenges does this present? Greenspoon has a large litigation group that handles almost exclusively federal court work. They are very careful about how they select vendors so they will be able to work closely with clients. They try to make sure from a business perspective that customers have policies in place. But having a policy in place is only as good as the people who enforce it. That can be an issue in federal court. If you have a policy that you retain information, you’d better retain. They counsel clients on being careful with what they put in an email and text message. Make sure agreements and deals you make are properly documented. ♦
About the Law Firms Roundtable
SFBW law panel members were selected from the magazine’s list of top South Florida law firms.
The law panel discussion was held at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, one of the nation’s top five general aviation airports. Services include aircraft refueling and parking, corporate aviation, air ambulance, air charter, maintenance, avionics, flight training, aircraft refurbishing and catering.
The sponsor of the panel was LiveWell 1440, whose name signifies how we all have the same minutes in the day. The wellness company helps clients and their employees by assessing workplaces, discovering health risks, intervening, educating and enrolling participants. It then motivates, coaches, tracks goals, measures progress and provides results and rewards. The outcomes are improved employee health, increased engagement and morale, and reduced absenteeism.
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