Howell "Hal" Melton Jr., the managing partner of Holland & Knight, announced he will not seek re-election and will hand the reins over to Steven Sonberg, a 15-year partner at the 1,150-lawyer firm.
Melton has managed the law firm for the past five years.
"I have determined that at this point in my professional life, I want to return to the active practice of law and serving clients while devoting more energy and attention to my family," Melton said in a press release.
Sonberg, chairman of the firm's business law section, was the only candidate running for the position, according to firm spokeswoman Susan Bass.
A former Holland & Knight lawyer commended Sonberg as a consensus builder and a good leader who helped people move toward a common goal, according to the Daily Business Review, an affiliate of The National Law Journal.
Sonberg, based in Miami, has served on the firm's directors committee for eight years and co-chairs its corporate governance national practice group. He previously oversaw the corporate practice group in south Florida and has been in practice in Florida since 1972.
"I am honored to be the nominee of my partners for the position of managing partner," Sonberg said. "Between now and the time of our election in March, I will focus my time on meeting with partners throughout the firm."
Melton had supporters within the firm and was thought to have brought stability to a firm that underwent serious financial difficulties during the reign of former managing partner and Florida gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride.
However, Melton's reign was marred by a sexual harassment scandal in the Tampa, Fla., office. After nine lawyers complained of bullying and inappropriate sexual remarks by a male partner, Melton wound up promoting that partner to chief operating officer. He later rescinded the promotion in the face of critical press reports and apologized to the firm's lawyers.
A partner who did not want to be identified said he was not surprised that Melton was stepping aside. His style may have rubbed some lawyers the wrong way, said the partner.
"He was closed and insulated [in] his decision-making," he said. "Many people prefer more openness at the firm."
Holland & Knight has 17 offices in the United States, including seven in Florida. It is the 18th largest law firm in the country, according to the NLJ's 2007 survey of the nation's 250 largest law firms.