Legal Raid

By: 
Jun. 8, 2012

Statewide legal powerhouse Gunster is the newest business-focused law firm to enter the Tampa Bay market, arriving en masse by raiding the entirety of another big Florida law firm's Tampa office.

The nine lawyers that had made up the Tampa office of Ruden McCloskey — the South Florida firm that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November — are now the Tampa office for Palm Beach-based Gunster.

“Gunster has been interested in Tampa Bay for some period of time,” says James Soble, a shareholder in Gunster's new Tampa office and one of the nine lawyers from Ruden McCloskey. “The goal is to be a full-service business law firm serving the business community.”

Most of the nine lawyers are either Tampa natives or long-timers and bring a deep client list and reputation to the new firm. But at the moment, they do not bring any new competition in their areas of practice, just a new name for the same lawyers.

That could change. One of their first orders of business is to recruit other established Tampa lawyers who can fill in business practice niches or strengthen others.

“We'd like to, in a year or two, double the size and expand our existing practice areas,” Soble says. Those areas include real estate, health care, corporate, banking, trust and estates, and commercial litigation. Others they intend to expand into include labor, employment, taxation and private wealth management. One strategy for their expansion is to look at buying entire small firms if the fit is right.

“They (Gunster) have grown carefully, but successfully,” says David Shear, a shareholder from Ruden.

Other large metro offices that Gunster operates in Florida are 25 to 35 attorneys, says Bruce Lamb, a shareholder from Ruden and a well-known name in the area of health care law. He expects the Tampa office to reach similar numbers in a few years.

Gunster has a lot of health care industry clients and wanted to expand its health care clients. Its services were mostly merger and acquisition and corporate.

“Here in the Tampa office we have a lot of depth in health care regulatory issues, which dominate most of the business transactions now,” Lamb says. “So it was a good marriage.” But he adds that the firm will be looking for more health care experts.

For the nine Tampa lawyers, Gunster provides significant expertise resources and has a large governmental affairs office in Tallahassee. That is an important source for the lawyers dealing in regulatory areas -- which are most of areas of business now.

This is the ninth office for Gunster, which started in 1925, and aims to be a statewide firm. The addition of the Tampa office means the only Florida major metro area without a Gunster office is Orlando.

“It's a natural expansion of that goal of the firm to be a statewide firm,” Soble says. “Certainly the Tampa Bay market is a core business market in Florida.”

And it seemed like a good fit to the former Ruden McCloskey lawyers, who were already community oriented and working with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the Boys & Girls Club and Bay Area Legal Services.

“We have pretty deep ties to the community,” Shear says.

And now, so does Gunster.