Akerman Senterfitt is embracing Miami's burgeoning technology startup community, becoming the first law firm to lease space at the LAB Miami, an entrepreneurial incubator in the Wynwood district.
The Miami-based law firm embedded itself in the LAB this month after leasing space for six to 10 lawyers on rotation. The space is funky and hip, with a huge mural of a cartoonish character named Louie emblazoned on the wall and pointing to the project logo "Akerman In."
Supported by the Knight Foundation, the LAB Miami is a 10,000-square-foot campus where tech-focused entrepreneurs can work alongside like-minded people, finding mentors, collaborating and seeking venture capitalists to fund their projects. It's an effort by city leaders to turn Miami into an entrepreneurial tech hub.
Akerman lawyers from the firm's corporate, intellectual property and real estate practices will work in the Wynwood office at 400 NW 26th St. and away from the firm's downtown high-rise headquarters.
Leading the effort are Mary Carroll, chair of Akerman's corporate practice group, and Daniel Faust, a real estate shareholder who represents Wynood redeveloper Goldman Properties U.S.A. Inc.
Faust approached his law firm with the concept of leasing space at the LAB — short for learn, act, build — in April. Firm leadership studied the idea, and chairman and CEO Andrew Smulian quickly signed off on it. Graphic and interior designers were hired to create a hip space, and the Akerman In logo. A small team of lawyers moved in early this month.
"It's important to Akerman to demonstrate that it's a forward-thinking firm, that we're progressive in thought and entrepreneurial in nature," Faust said. "We wanted to demonstrate this to the community, especially the startup community."
In Wynwood, the firm will hold seminars and workshops for young entrepreneurs, teaching them how to avoid IP pitfalls and how to obtain startup financing.
And, of course, the firm hopes to sign up new clients.
"From our perspective, you never know where the next entrepreneur will come from, and this is an exciting opportunity to get involved at a grass-roots level in South Florida," Carroll said. "We want to get ahead of the curve."
Akerman has more than 550 lawyers and lobbyists in 19 U.S. offices.
Wifredo Fernandez, co-founder of the LAB, said the group was at first surprised to find a corporate law firm interested in space.
"We may not have imagined a corporate law member, but after sitting down with Dan Faust we realized our missions were aligned," he said. "This isn't just some corporate guys coming here to work. We all know that for entrepreneurs, having really good legal counsel can ensure that your startup is successful."
While the LAB has a policy of not allowing competing types of businesses, it might consider allowing other law firms to join, noted co-founder Daniel Lafuente.