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When longtime Miami partners and firm stars Dan Gelber and Stevgen Chaykin left Zuckerman Spaeder a year ago, some wondered if there was trouble at the firm. When longtime Miami managing partner Ron Ravikoff departed two months ago, gossip really began to fly about the health of the firm’s Miami office. Still, Wednesday’s press announcement that the firm was closing its Miami office � ostensibly laying off a dozen support staff and a handful of associates � stunned Miami’s legal community. “I am personally saddened by the loss of the firm,” said Joe Ankus, a longtime South Florida legal headhunter. “This is a severe loss in the Miami legal community. That firm was one of the premiere firms for federal work here, and they balanced quality of work and lifestyle like no one I’ve seen.” Shortly after opening its doors in Washington D.C. in 1975, Zuckerman Spaeder launched a Miami office. The office quickly made a name for itself as a litigation boutique specializing in white collar criminal defense and healthcare law. Some seventy percent of the firm’s work was federal, and some of Miami’s most prominent federal practitioners have passed through its doors, including former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez; Gelber, minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives; and Richard Strafer, now one of Florida’s most prominent appellate attorneys. It’s unclear why the firm ultimately imploded. But the decision last week by five Miami top partners to leave the firm pushed it over the edge. Five Zuckerman lawyers � Michael Pasano, Stephen Bronis, Thomas Meeks, Walter Tache and Paul Calli � announced Wednesday they were joining Carlton Fields, a rapidly growing Florida firm with 90 lawyers in Miami and offices throughout the state. Tache had just been named managing partner of the firm’s Miami office six weeks ago. Just hours after the announcement of the five departures, Zuckerman Chairman Graeme Bush issued a statement, saying, “we have begun the process of closing our Miami office. For more than 20 years, Zuckerman Spaeder has been extremely well served by a superb team of attorneys and staff in our Miami office and we wish them all well.” The firm would maintain its Tampa office, he stated. Bush declined to discuss the reasons for the office closure, however Pasano insists the office closed due to the departure of he and his colleagues, not the other way around. “The cause was our leaving � they had no economic choice,” Pasano said. “There is no hesitation or grey area there.” Pasano, Tache and Bronis all said they were leaving because the Miami office was losing people, they felt increasingly isolated from the Washington office and they were not getting the support they needed. Additionally, they were frequently conflicted out of cases by the Washington office. “Zuckerman was not going to be expanding in Miami,” Bronis said. “The office was in fact losing people. I needed more support, not less support. I think that Carlton Fields offers a larger platform for my cases and clients, they have offices throughout the state.” Added Tache: “From a cultural standpoint, we’ve become a Florida-centric office at Zuckerman. We’ve grown apart culturally from the D.C. office.” All insisted the decision was not influenced by money or Ravikoff’s departure. Firm spokeswoman Pamela Navarro-Watson said Zuckerman was committed to “making a smooth transition” for the remaining employees � partner Jennifer Coberley, two of-counsels, six associates and 10 support staff. According to sources, all were talking with Carlton Fields at presstime. Ravikoff, who worked at the firm for 25 years and is now a partner at Akerman Senterfitt, had little comment about the office’s demise, except to say, “I’m sad that the firm is closing it’s Miami office.” With the closure of the Miami office, Zuckerman Spaeder now has 90 lawyers in offices in Baltimore, New York, Tampa, Washington, and Wilmington, Delaware.

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