Akerman Senterfitt, one of Florida’s largest law firms, is reporting a record financial year, with a 10.8 percent increase in gross revenue to $285 million.
It’s the second record-setting year for the Miami-based firm, which posted a 9.1 percent jump in gross revenue in the previous fiscal year. Akerman’s fiscal year ended Oct. 31.
Akerman also posted a jump in net revenue of 11.5 percent, to $103 million. Lawyer headcount jumped from about 525 to 560 lawyers.
Akerman Senterfitt is Florida’s largest law firm in attorney headcount and the second largest in terms of gross revenue. The firm ranked 122nd on The American Lawyer’s 2011 Am Law 200 based on gross revenues.
In an interview with the Daily Business Review, chairman and CEO Andrew Smulian attributed the strong year in part to a large class of new lateral partners joining the firm in the last year. Lateral hiring increased 6.6 percent, he said. Some of the new partners include Elizabeth Hernandez, former Coral Gables city attorney; Richard Sharpstein, a veteran white-collar criminal defense lawyer; and Jay Koren, former partner in charge of the Florida state practice of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, who recently joined Akerman’s taxation practice.
“We had a strong recruiting year and that’s continuing,” Smulian said. “We’re headed in the right direction. The future is bright.”
Smulian also pointed to a robust year for middle-market merger and acquisition deals, including the representation of Carrols Restaurant Group in its acquisition of 278 Burger King franchises that made it the largest Burger King franchisee in the world; of China-based Shandong Heavy Industry Group-Weichair Group in the acquisition of a controlling interest in Ferretti Group, which owns Miami-based Bertram Yachts; and of RedZone Capital Management Co. in its acquisition of Dick Clark Productions.
The firm’s real estate practice was also active, representing the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, Brooklyn Navy Yard and Battery Maritime Building in New York; helping redevelop Quincy, Massachusetts; and representing Swire Properties in the development of Brickell CitiCentre, a $1 billion project that is expected to transform downtown Miami, and as land use counsel for the Miami Station of All Aboard Florida, a planned railroad line between Orlando and South Florida.
In a Caribbean deal, the firm represented First Citizens Bank of Trinidad in its plan to acquire the Barbados subsidiary of Bank of N.T. Butterfield, a public company with $308 million in assets.
Akerman Senterfitt has made a dramatic turnaround in the last few years. In 2009, the firm reported a dramatic 30 percent drop in its non-equity shareholders, capping off a difficult year marked by rapid turnover, the collapse of a proposed merger with now-defunct WolfBlock and the revelation that the firm missed its budget. Non-equity shareholders also suffered a 15 percent drop in pay.
Joe Ankus, a longtime legal headhunter with Weston-based Ankus Consulting, says Akerman has learned its lessons and attributes the firm’s upward spiral to two factors: diversification and superior management.
Akerman found a way to capitalize on the foreclosure crisis and developed a niche in representing banks in sophisticated, or complex, foreclosures, Ankus noted.
“It’s not run-of-the-mill litigation, and not just any lawyer can do what they are doing,” Ankus said. “The sum total of this is they were in the right place at the right time in order to capitalize on this very significant banking work.”
Ankus also dubbed Akerman’s management “intelligent.”
“Their management is top-notch,” he said. “They understand the economics of running a law firm. The numbers don’t lie. They got the lesson in diversification. It’s impressive.”
Smulian declined to say whether Akerman plans to open any new offices next year. However, legal observers say the firm has leased a considerable amount of space in New York and plans to grow that office significantly. Miami is still Akerman’s largest office. But that could change, Smulian said.
“There’s no rule against that,” he noted.
Akerman still has not made a decision on whether to renew its lease at the SunTrust International Center in downtown Miami, where the firm is the building’s largest tenant. Its lease is not up for some three years, Smulian said.