Two Pennsylvania firms have become the beneficiaries of defections from the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of Edwards Wildman.

At least nine lawyers have resigned from Edwards Wildman’s main Florida office. Six partners are set to open a West Palm Beach office for Cozen O’Connor. Another partner and an associate have already joined Duane Morris and an additional partner is leaving to join a client’s in-house legal department, sources and the firms have said.

Earlier this month, corporate partner Leslie J. Croland joined Duane Morris’ Miami and Boca Raton, Fla., offices along with associate Driscoll R. Ugarte. Sources have said another partner is leaving to take an in-house position with a client.

Partners Michael E. Botos, D. Scott Elliott, John David Dickenson, A. Kenneth Levine, Simeon D. Brier and Harvey A. Feintuch are set to launch the new West Palm Beach location for Cozen O’Connor once all of the attorneys have been officially released from Edwards Wildman. Brier will work out of both the new office and Cozen O’Connor’s existing Miami location. Feintuch will work out of the West Palm Beach and New York offices.

Cozen O’Connor has opened office space in West Palm Beach that can house approximately 15 attorneys, and Chief Executive Officer Michael Heller said the expectation is to grow the location and turn the firm’s focus to expansion in Miami as well.

Edwards Wildman has offices in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., though the seven attorneys listed on the firm’s website as working in Fort Lauderdale are also listed in the West Palm Beach office. There are currently 15 attorneys listed on the firm’s website as practicing in West Palm Beach. Once all of the departing attorneys officially leave, the firm would be left with 11 lawyers in that location.

Edwards Wildman had also looked to make a go of it in Gainesville, Fla., with its 2008 launch in the city. As was the stated plan when it opened, the office has not been permanently staffed by lawyers, but rather has served as a location in which attorneys from other Edwards Wildman Florida offices can rotate into when meeting with clients in the area.

Edwards Wildman came into existence as a 650-attorney, 14-office firm in October 2011 through the merger of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon. The firm now has 15 offices and just under 600 attorneys, ranking 80th on the Am Law 100 with gross revenue in 2012 of $352.5 million.

Jonathan Cole, Florida managing partner for Edwards Wildman, confirmed numerous partners are leaving the firm but declined to state how many. He confirmed many are leaving to form a new Palm Beach County office for Cozen O’Connor.

Cole, who started with Edwards Wildman 42 years ago, insisted the firm is here to stay and is looking to hire three associates. He also said the firm will soon close its Fort Lauderdale office in the second quarter, when the lease expires, but is looking for office space in Miami.

"We’re pressing forward," he said. "We’re looking to relocate the Fort Lauderdale office to Miami. We like the South Florida market. We have a lot of clients in the three counties."

When the departures all become public, Cole said the firm will have 16 lawyers total in South Florida.

Palm Beach County, and Boca Raton in particular, have proven to be tough markets for law firms to break into, sources have said. GrayRobinson recently picked up an office — Siemon & Larsen — that was struggling to rebuild after the recession, and Boca Raton firm Rutherford Mulhall recently went out of business.

"It’s a tough marketplace," said a long-time West Palm Beach attorney who did not want to be identified. "Firms find they can’t charge the billing rates they can in other offices like Miami. They just can’t charge enough to be profitable."

Cozen O’Connor’s Heller said that isn’t an issue with the team joining his firm. He said their practice and rates fit "very well" with Cozen O’Connor’s rate structure firmwide. He said the group joining in West Palm Beach fits directly with many of the firm’s core practice areas.

Heller said Cozen O’Connor had been looking to expand into West Palm Beach for a year because of its private client services practice. The six attorneys joining the firm focus not only on representing high-net-worth individuals but also in the areas of real estate, insurance corporate and regulatory work, reinsurance and commercial litigation.

When asked whether associates would be joining the West Palm Beach team, Heller said only that he would expect the office to continue to grow.

There are currently four attorneys in Cozen O’Connor’s Miami office. Heller said the firm will be devoting significant resources to expand that location and may look to relocate existing Cozen O’Connor lawyers to Florida. Aside from the private client services focus, the Miami location’s insurance practice also has a burgeoning Latin America component, making Miami an ideal gateway for growth in that practice area, Heller said. He said Cozen O’Connor would also look to expand all of the firm’s business practices into Miami as well.

Richard Dunn, a partner in Cozen O’Connor’s Miami office, said he was thrilled the firm would be expanding to Palm Beach County.

"We have an active private client practice in that area already," he said. "We have a lot of clients there. That’s the primary driver."

Of the lawyers joining Cozen O’Connor, Elliott focuses his practice on representing high-net-worth individuals and corporate fiduciaries in trusts and estates matters; Botos focuses his practice on commercial and residential real estate; Feintuch handles insurance coverage litigation and reinsurance; Levine works with clients dealing with state and federal law regulating the licensure and transactions of insurance, reinsurance and other products; Brier handles commercial litigation and employment law; and Dickenson focuses on insurance and reinsurance.

"The firm’s full-service capabilities, combined with Cozen O’Connor’s strong entrepreneurial culture provide key advantages at a time when the practice of law is more competitive than ever," Botos said, in a statement, regarding his group’s move.

Former Edwards Wildman partner Croland left the firm March 8 and joined Duane Morris one week later with Ugarte. When asked whether others from his former firm would be coming along, he said, "I don’t know. I’m not actively recruiting anyone."

Croland declined to state his reasons for leaving Edwards Wildman, but said he joined Duane Morris because "it gave me an opportunity to return to the Miami marketplace through their office here, and maintain contacts that I have made in my 30-plus years in Florida as well. I’m active in a number of organizations Duane Morris is going to continue to support."

Croland, who specializes in corporate securities venture capital, worked in Miami for 20 years before moving to Palm Beach County to join the Edwards firm. He counsels domestic and foreign corporations on a range of securities transactions. He also advises startup companies and entrepreneurs, venture capital companies, underwriters and sellers and purchasers of businesses.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.

Julie Kay is a reporter for the Daily Business Review, a Legal affiliate based in Florida. •