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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 25, 2020 2 years ago

Law firm grows, powers through pandemic

Despite the pandemic, one area law firm is expanding by bringing on new attorneys and adding a practice group.  
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

The pandemic isn’t the only major, widespread challenge area law firm Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt P.A. has gone through. The firm, founded in 1924, experienced the Great Depression, the more recent recession and other national and regional events in between.

Now, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Henderson Franklin has continued to grow, bringing on more attorneys since March. It’s also formalized a new intellectual property group. The firm, with offices in Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Naples, expects more growth in the years ahead.

“We hit a major growth spurt in the late ’80s and early ’90s and then another one probably in the 2003 to 2007 range right before the recession because Florida and particularly Southwest Florida was in such a boom mode and growth mode right before the recession,” says Managing Stockholder and Land Use and Environmental Law Attorney Russell Schropp. “The idea for immediate growth is going to be consistent and steady. The growth that’s projected for Southwest Florida, it’s likely to add several hundred thousand people in the coming years, and that will bring on the additional need for services.”

For the firm, COVID-19 has made predicting what the future might hold a little more uncertain, says Shannon Puopolo, stockholder, hiring chair and business litigation attorney. But it’s looking beyond immediate impacts. “The way our hiring works, we always try to look ahead,” she says. “What’s our five-year projection and 10-year projection? You need to hire to meet needs a couple years out.”

‘We’ve continued with our hiring needs despite the economic uncertainty of the current COVID situation. We don’t want to be stuck in a situation where we don’t have enough attorneys because we didn’t plan ahead.’ — Shannon Puopolo, Henderson Franklin

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the firm has hired five lawyers who were practicing elsewhere prior to joining Henderson Franklin. “We’ve continued with our hiring needs despite the economic uncertainty of the current COVID situation,” says Puopolo. “We don’t want to be stuck in a situation where we don’t have enough attorneys because we didn’t plan ahead.”

It also brought on three entry-level attorneys in September who served as summer associates in 2019, all of whom are waiting to take the Florida Bar Exam. Due to the pandemic, the test, originally scheduled for July, was postponed to an online test in August. Then technical issues delayed it again until October. Until they pass, the firm is having the new hires work as legal interns.

With the additions, the firm now has 61 attorneys and 28 paralegals. “We’re really trying to expand and look to new areas of law and get additional talent within preexisting areas of law we already practice,” says Puopolo. “There are some additional areas we’re looking to fill. We’re keeping our eyes out for additional attorneys as well.”

One way the firm is expanding is by formally launching an intellectual property group in August to help clients protect assets, from trademarks and copyrights to patents and trade secrets.

Courtesy. Attorney Mark Nieds is serving as chair of the firm’s intellectual property group.

Key to the group is attorney Mark Nieds, who relocated from Chicago and has been with the firm for a few years. He serves as chair of the firm’s intellectual property group. “We’re growing this practice because the whole field of intellectual property is becoming more important to everyone’s bottom line out there,” says Nieds. “As that becomes a bigger part of the business environment, the need for people to help protect it and prevent others from using it without authorization — the need for folks like us — is increasing as well.”

Remote work habits brought on by the pandemic have also shined a spotlight on the importance of protecting intellectual property. “COVID has changed the way companies work,” says Nieds. “Now it’s nothing for a company to have 75% of its workforce working remotely at one time. That means that potentially your secrets are out there remotely as well. Businesses are starting to recognize they need to ensure they have everything internal protected as people are using it to do their jobs externally.”

Henderson Franklin’s move to add an intellectual property group aims to serve both current and prospective clients. “Every business out there, no matter what they do, has some intellectual property,” says Nieds. “We’re here to help those businesses recognize what they have and help them protect it.”

To get the word out about the practice group, the firm plans to release blogs, webinars and continuing legal education about intellectual property topics. “During COVID, we’ve expanded and a lot of other firms have shrunk,” says Nieds. “Henderson Franklin has been here for close to 100 years trying to read what’s important to our clients and the business community and put forth practice groups and service offerings that will align with that.”

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