The midsize law firm is no longer the legal entity du jour. But some firms in that category have found ways to grow and prosper.
The business of law firms nationally is riding a big-get-bigger wave.
Combined revenue among the Top 100 law firms nationwide, for example, ranked by legal publication American Lawyer, rose 6.4% in 2017, to $105.7 billion. Nearly one-third — 31 firms — posted revenue of at least $1 billion, up from 27 in 2016. And a majority — 85 firms — reported revenue increases, the American Lawyer data analysis shows. On mergers, law firms set a 10-year high in tie-ups in 2017 with 95, according to consulting firm Altman Weil. That bested 85 mergers in 2016 and 91 in 2015.
Yet several law firms in the region refuse to give up the midsize ship in a quest to do more for current clients and seek new ones. Some are on hiring surges, to keep up with demand, reel in rainmakers — or both.
Fort Myers-based Henderson Franklin, for one, has hired 18 attorneys since September 2016, and now has 55 lawyers who work in 19 practice areas, from family law to intellectual property. Tampa-based Trenam, meanwhile, expanded its real estate and land-use practice in August, when it hired five lawyers who had been with the Tampa office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
Williams Parker, one of the largest locally based firms in the Sarasota-Bradenton region, is another big part of the trend. Since it celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015, the firm has hired about a dozen lawyers, raising the count nearly 25% to 51 lawyers. In total, the firm has 110 employees. Officials decline to disclose revenue figures.
‘This opportunity came up and I feel like it allows me to stretch my professional skills.’ Tom Luzier, attorney, Williams Parker
Firm President Ric Gregoria says the increase in lawyers, at least in one way, tracks the rise of high-net-worth people. A few years ago, he says, people coming in for legal services with a net worth more than $50 million were somewhat rare. “Now there are people walking through the doors with $1 billion in assets,” Gregoria says. “This significantly has driven the types of legal services we want to provide.”
Sources of the Williams Parker newbies vary. A few came from the acquisition of boutique labor and employment law firm formerly known as Kunkel, Miller & Hament. Others are from Williams Parker’s summer associate program, which, says Gregoria, is more than coffee fetching. “Instead of carrying someone’s briefcase for the first three years,” Gregoria says, “you are working live here.”
One relatively new Williams Parker lawyer is Dr. Steven Brownlee — who has the rare resume that includes a J.D., M.B.A. and M.D. He’s practiced medicine and worked in medical management consulting, and as an attorney he’s represented senior living facilities, home health agencies and physician groups. Brownlee has helped clients navigate Medicare audits, handle operational compliance and defended a physician’s license over an alleged telemedicine violation, among other work.
A big recent get for Williams Parker, in the rainmaker department, is real estate lawyer Tom Luzier. He was named a partner at Williams Parker in early September, coming from a partner-level role at Dunlap & Moran. Luzier brought along two paralegals.
Luzier, who has closed more than $1 billion in transactions during the past two decades, is chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission, which administers and enforces Florida’s real estate license law. He and several Williams Parker lawyers have known each other for years, and the move started as a slow roll that came together quickly over the summer.
“This opportunity came up and I feel like it allows me to stretch my professional skills,” Luzier says. “It also opens up a wealth of opportunities for clients.”
While Williams Parker intends to continue hiring more lawyers, a geographic expansion, to Bradenton or south or north of the region, says Gregoria, is unlikely. He says the firm, while not growing just to grow, will add people to stay ahead of the competition — with one caveat: They are top-notch lawyers, like Luzier or Brownlee. “You have to build with talent,” Gregoria says. “If you don’t build the talent of your firm you’re kidding yourself.”