Holland & Knight, in a significant step that reinforces its long-standing commitment to diversity, has named a black woman as executive partner of the firm's 107-lawyer Miami office.
Labor and employment partner Kelly-Ann Cartwright will replace Peter Prieto, who is stepping down to become leader of the firm's national litigation section.
Cartwright will become the only black woman managing partner at a large firm in South Florida and the first black woman to lead an office at Holland & Knight.
The Miami office is Holland's fifth-largest behind Washington, Chicago, New York and Boston.
Prieto's promotion will place him at the helm of the firm's largest of four sections, overseeing 430 attorneys in 16 practice areas -- almost half of the firm.
Holland & Knight has long been a leader in law firm diversity. The 2007 Daily Business Review Diversity Scorecard found that Holland led South Florida in the number of black attorneys.
"Holland & Knight is committed to diversity and to do that, you have to do more than say you are being committed, you have to do it," Cartwright said. "And by placing people like me in leadership positions you do that."
Holland ranked No. 12 overall in South Florida based on the percentage of minority lawyers, according to the Review's survey. The firm reported that out of 155 lawyers in South Florida, 56 were minorities -- 44 Hispanics and 12 blacks.
Black bar leaders cheered the appointment of Cartwright, but said it was long overdue. "It's worth celebrating, but it's a great opportunity to be introspective," said Greg Haile, president of the T.J. Reddick Bar Association. "What is wrong that it has taken someone this long to achieve this? ... The fact that this is the first African-American woman to achieve this at a major law firm is very telling of where we are."
Law firms have increasingly emphasized hiring women and minority lawyers, primarily under pressure from corporate clients who are demanding that lawyers who work for them be more reflective of the customers and communities the companies serve.
And while some firms have made great strides in hiring minority lawyers, few have moved into the leadership ranks.
Cartwright, who is from Georgetown, Guyana, joined Holland as a summer associate in 1990. She said she attributes the progress of minority and women lawyers at the firm to founder Chesterfield Smith, who ingrained in firm leaders the need for diversity and community service.
"I'm home grown," she said. "It's exciting for me to be the face of Holland & Knight in Miami. It's an exciting opportunity."
Cartwright, who has been on the firm's director's committee, is set to take over on Nov. 1 from Prieto. He assumes his new post in January.
A former federal prosecutor, Prieto headed the Miami office for six years. He will remain co-chair of the firm's white-collar defense team. Prieto was involved in the investigation of former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown as an associate deputy attorney in the Office of Independent Counsel, and recently defended Tenet Healthcare in a RICO class action suit in U.S. District Court that was dismissed.
Prieto has represented individual and corporate clients in criminal investigations and prosecutions involving public corruption; business, banking and health care fraud; aviation; environmental violations; antitrust and money laundering.
Prieto takes over from Arlington-based partner Richard Duvall, who will end a five-year tenure as litigation section leader to concentrate on developing the firm's government contracts group.
Holland is organized into four sections: litigation, business law, real estate and government.
"Peter and Kelly-Ann bring a wealth of talent, experience and proven leadership skills to their new roles at Holland & Knight," the firm's managing partner, Howell W. Melton Jr., said in a statement. "I am confident that our firm and our Miami office will benefit greatly from their leadership."
In 2003, Cartwright was appointed to the ad hoc Committee on Attorney Admissions, Peer Review and Attorney Grievance for the U.S. District Court in Miami.
"She is what we describe as a role-model partner. She has clients, she works hard, and she mentors our young lawyers. She is the kind of lawyer you really can't ask anything more of," Prieto said.
Holland & Knight has 17 offices nationwide, and foreign offices located in Beijing, Tokyo and Mexico City, with representative offices in Caracas, Helsinki and Tel Aviv. The firm ranked 32nd in gross revenue according to the most recent Am Law 100 survey published in May, and generated $614 million in gross revenue last year.