Lee Thuston, Burr & Forman.
Lee Thuston, Burr & Forman. (John Disney/Daily Report)

Last year was a growth year for Burr & Forman.

The firm’s revenue increased 8.3 percent to $130 million. Profit per equity partner increased from $470,000 to $483,000, the result of a $5 million increase in net income, even though Burr & Forman expanded its equity partner ranks by eight people to 117.

Overall head count was 262 lawyers, up by 13 from 2012.

Managing partner William “Lee” Thuston said part of the revenue increase came from lateral hires. The firm acquired a 23-lawyer Tampa firm, Williams Schifino Mangione & Steady, in late 2012, which included 14 partners.

Last year Burr & Forman recruited 14 lawyers, including four partners.

“Even so, there was a big increase in work,” Thuston said. Revenue for the litigation practice increased by $22 million—a whopping 41 percent—and the banking and real estate practices also were busy, with revenue increases of almost 6 percent.

The Southeastern firm, based in Birmingham, forayed into Florida in 2009 when it added a 26-lawyer Orlando office. It followed that with a Fort Lauderdale office in April 2012, led by John Chiles, who with six associates handles mortgage and consumer finance litigation for lenders and collection agencies.

The more recent combination with Williams Schifino gave Burr & Forman a Tampa office, which Thuston said provides local counsel for its banking and financial institutions clients, and almost doubled the number of lawyers in its Florida offices to 55.

“We like Florida. There is a lot of growth there and growth potential, particularly in financial services and in health care,” he said.

Thuston said the firm also wants to extend its economic development work—his practice area—into Florida. “That’s a big part of the firm’s business. We have not gotten any manufacturing clients yet. I’m working on it.”

Thuston has assisted foreign carmakers including Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and DaimlerChrysler in establishing factories in Alabama and Georgia.

Florida has not been known for manufacturing but Thuston predicted that will change. “Business was so good that they did not seek it out,” he said, but Florida’s real estate and service industries were hit hard by the recession.

The firm lost a few partners last year. Corporate lawyer Jennifer Moseley and labor and employment litigator Peter Spanos, joined the Atlanta office of Barnes & Thornburg. Another partner, Kevin Doherty, who handles insurance regulation, decamped for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Nashville.

In litigation, Burr & Forman was able to get a shareholder derivative suit dismissed for Regions Financial Corp., which is based in Birmingham. The suit, filed in Jefferson County, Ala., in 2009, against Regions and its board of directors, was dismissed in December 2012.

Burr & Forman is defending Regions in a securities class action brought by investors against the bank holding company and its directors alleging they issued misleading statements about the company’s performance by overstating the value of its goodwill and artificially inflating its stock price for most of 2008. The case has been stayed, pending Regions’ appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals of the class certification granted in 2012 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

It is defending Tacala, the nation’s largest Taco Bell franchiser, in a suit alleging that the company did not pay employees for all hours worked or for overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. A judge for the Northern District of Alabama denied the plaintiff’s bid for collective action certification for employees of Tacala’s 226 Taco Bell restaurants. The claim is still pending for the initial plaintiff.

Burr & Forman handled several transactions for ProAssurance Corp. It advised the Birmingham-based insurance company, which specializes in medical professional and product liability as well as legal liability claims, in its $205 million acquisition of Eastern Insurance Holdings, which handles health care workers’ compensation claims, effective Jan. 1, 2014. It also advised ProAssurance on a November public offering of $250 million.