Technology, Global Expansion Fuel Law Firms’ Growth

When Michael Diaz Jr. looks at demand for legal services, he sees a world of business opportunities. “Globalization is here to stay,” says Diaz, global managing partner of Diaz, Reus & Targ LLP, a Miami-based firm with more than 100 attorneys in 23 U.S. and international offices. “We opened an new affiliate office in Moscow last summer, and continue to take a close look at other global markets where clients need our services.”

From Miami to Palm Beach Gardens, South Florida law firms like Diaz Reus are looking at 2019 strategies for growing their practices and serving clients more effectively and efficiently.

Take Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, LLP. When Richard Comiter and Michael Singer launched their Palm Beach Gardens firm in 2000, they expected to top out at eight attorneys plus staff. “We just opened an office in Boca in September and our team of 10 attorneys is likely to be 12 to 14 by next year,” says Singer, managing partner.

Estate planning, transactional tax planning and trust, estate and probate litigation are the firm’s busiest practice areas, Singer says. “As Palm Beach County has grown over the years, we are seeing many more affluent families and business owners in our area,” he said. “We have also greatly expanded our litigation practice, especially in estate and trust litigation.”

Another well-established firm that’s adding attorneys is Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, P.L in Coral Gables.

“While we are increasing the number of our attorneys, we don’t believe that it is necessary to open more offices to grow—although we are open to that possibility,” says Mitchell Burnstein, managing director. “Many of our attorneys work remotely, and that trend is gaining momentum. Attorneys who are in the office infrequently don’t mind sharing an office or camping out in a visitor’s office a few days per month.”

Burnstein says most of Weiss Serota’s practice areas are in high demand now.

“Ourlitigation, labor and employ–ment, corporate, construction, and land use lawyers are swamped,” he says. “Even for a couple of our practice areas that are slow industry-wide, such as bankruptcy and real estate workouts, we remain busy. That’s the beauty of a mid-size firm—we pivot quickly and work lean.”

A global growth curve

Greenburg Traurig continues to grow in South Florida and around the world. “We are seeing strong demand across all our core practice areas, including real estate, corporate and litigation,” says Brian Duffy, CEO of the Miami-based firm. “That demand is coming from across the U.S. and Europe and Latin America as well.” As long as the U.S. economy and real estate stays hot, we expect the flow of deals to continue.”

Since its founding in 1967, Greenburg Traurig (GT) has grown to become one of the nation’s largest law firms with 2,000 attorneys in 38 offices on three continents. “We continue to consider new offices in the U.S., western Europe and other locations,” Duffy says. “Those decisions are often driven by the legal needs of our clients.”

In South Florida, GT is seeing greater client interest in technology issues, from financing opportunities for smaller companies to innovative approaches to cybersecurity, blockchain and data privacy. “The technology trend is on an upswing, with lots of entrepreneurs and startups,” Duffy says. “That bodes well for the region’s economy and is creating a lot of legal work for our firm.”

Other investors are turning to GT for assistance with real estate and health care matters, as well as business mergers and acquisitions and private equity participation, Duffy said. That includes both U.S. and international investors seeking attractive assets in South Florida.

Within the legal services sector, Duffy expects the volume of law firm consolidations will continue at a steady pace in 2019.

“One reason is the cost and associated demands with technology, innovation and data security,” he says. “A second driver is that clients are looking for efficiencies in terms of scope of services and geographic reach.”

A third factor benefiting larger firms is the globalization of international commerce, says Duffy, adding that a large geographic platform helps to service multinational clients. Having a global reach also supports Diaz Reus’ ability to support clients in the Americas, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. “Many large U.S. firms see the market opportunity here in South Florida and the Americas,” Diaz said.

In terms of practice areas, Diaz Reus is experiencing an upturn in transactions, including cross-border mergers, acquisitions, and infrastructure project financing. “Ecuador and Mexico are among the countries attracting inbound interest,” Diaz says. “It remains to be seen what will happen with Brazil under a new president.”

Diaz says the firm’s investigative and asset recovery practices are also going strong. “Some countries are trying to recover funds from former officials who have taken their assets overseas,” he says. “There has also been an increase in U.S. sanctions against countries and individuals, as well as money laundering and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) actions in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s leading to more criminal investigations and white-collar criminal defense work for our firm.”

Deploying technology

Regardless of the size of scope of their practice areas, South Florida law firms are looking at technology tools to serve their clients. That includes collaborative videoconferencing set-ups that reduce the need for time-consuming in-person meetings and predictive analytic applications that can serve as a guide to potential litigation outcomes.

“We view technology as creating more efficiencies and reducing overhead,” Burnstein says. “In our firm, technology doesn’t bring clients through the door or add revenue, but it does enable us to work smarter. The technology keys for us are reliable remote computer access and self-sufficiency.” Comiter Singer is already planning its technology infrastructure in advance of its move to a new Palm Beach Gardens office in the fall.

“We have been working on IT to put us as far in front of the curve as possible knowing that being there is only temporary because of evolving technology,” Singer says. “We know that our clients are often using their own workplaces and home offices to review documents and conduct conferences. We want to make sure that we are able to offer and respond to whatever technology that is out there to help our clients.” •

Frank Papandrea
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