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When Sheri Nott graduated from law school seven years ago, it took her about six months to land a job. That was the last time the tax lawyer, now 32, had trouble finding work. Since those early years, Nott says, she has been sought repeatedly by headhunters. With each phone call and interview have come new opportunities and more lucrative positions. Nott’s an associate now with Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel in Miami and makes $85,000 more than she did as a rookie. Unlike their predecessors who passed the Bar exam in the late 1980s to discover that post-recession jobs were scarce, most young lawyers today know the tough times only as folklore. Their experience is one of economic good times, plenty of work and rocketing salaries. And few see the boom going bust any time soon. “The economy has really changed significantly for lawyers,” said Nott. “I have a little sister who is about to finish college and she wants to go to law school. I told her this was a great time to go.” But how long will the good times last? Not surprisingly, the boom in legal services has been fueled by the intensely hot technology sector. Many firms have lost lawyers who have gone to seek fame and fortune with dot-com companies that offer stock options and the dream of early retirement. Firms looking to grab some of that Internet-related business scramble to add corporate lawyers to their payrolls to handle everything from start-ups to mergers and acquisitions. “We are heavily involved in e-commerce,” said Charles Schuette, chairman and chief executive of Akerman Senterfitt in Miami, which represents about 30 Internet-related businesses. “Everyone is positioning themselves to become involved in various organizations that cater to e-commerce.” Even with the current shake-out in the Internet sector and some slackening of interest among people willing to invest in start-ups, work for lawyers remains robust. Intellectual property specialists expect to remain busy, thanks to increased litigation involving e-commerce and patent disputes, according to an April survey by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The survey of intellectual property attorneys found 90 percent expect litigation relating to copyright, trademark and patents will increase substantially over the next five years. “Everyone perceives intellectual property litigation to be growing because companies are placing more and more emphasis on the value of their intellectual property,” said Keith R. Ugone, a Pricewaterhouse partner and leader of its intellectual property disputes practice. “They don’t want it to be eroded by competitors. All of that is leading to the expected increase in IP litigation.” Because the Internet industry is still young, many technology companies can’t afford their own stable of in-house lawyers. Legal spending has been up across the board, with outside counsel costs rising more than in-house spending, a 1999 Pricewaterhouse survey found. “Many of the e-commerce companies are in a start-up mode, and your first hire is not going to be in-house counsel,” says Gabe Imperato, managing partner of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office of Broad and Cassel. “Many are reaching out to outside counsel not only for pure legal services, but also for business planning and strategic advice.” Big firms also can give start-ups credibility, says Rick Bulman, chief executive of Hip Hip Software, a Miami Lakes, Fla., company that helps merchants create virtual storefronts from which to sell products to consumers or manufacturers and wholesalers. “As soon as you get cash in the door, one of the first things you will invest in is upscale counsel,” says Bulman, himself a lawyer who left Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Miami this year to work for his former client. “Our plan is to use dual counsel, three firms for different purposes. We are happy with our day-to-day counsel, and we will parcel out tasks based on ability to deliver services.” GOING LOCAL While South Florida corporate clients once sought legal expertise from a handful of big name firms in such centers as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the trend now is to look in their own backyard. Miami-based Ryder System Inc. is one example. It once employed Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katch in New York to perform the bulk of its corporate transaction and litigation work. But two years ago, when Vicki O’Meara took over as the company’s general counsel, the transportation logistics giant began to shift its business to Miami firms. Holland & Knight now does most of Ryder’s large transactions. “There are many top-notch and now national law firms with home bases in Miami, and I didn’t think we needed to go to New York for everything,” O’Meara said. Although Ryder has 20 in-house lawyers, the company still finds it necessary to parcel out work on large transactions and special projects, O’Meara said. Steel Hector & Davis has benefited from its outsourcing, as has Greenberg Traurig, which does all of Ryder’s retirement work. Jackson Lewis Schnitzler & Krupman’s Miami office handles Ryder’s labor and employment work. “We expect to continue to do that,” O’Meara said. Akerman Senterfitt also has benefited from the outsourcing boom. It handles the bulk of AutoNation’s legal business � everything from mergers to acquisitions to securities matters. Gunster Yoakley does much of AutoNation’s environmental due diligence. “It’s very common that large corporations will use different full-service and local firms to represent the company on different types of matters, and matters arising in different locations,” said Jon Ferrando, AutoNation’s general counsel. AutoNation has 12 in-house lawyers, but Ferrando expects there will always be work for outside counsel. “We are a Fortune 100 company and have a significant number of legal matters that arise in the course of conducting a business that is this large. It’s too much for a dozen lawyers to handle, and there are a variety of matters that require tremendous resources and experience that an outside firm can bring,” said Ferrando. Miami’s emergence as a more sophisticated and mature legal market also has helped improve the quality of services available in the area, said Bowman Brown, chairman of the executive committee at Shutts & Bowen in Miami. “You can get the same quality, or better quality services here,” Brown said. At Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Miami, some lawyers have become their clients’ temporary employees. “Citibank Latin America is going gangbusters. They borrowed one of our lawyers for six months,” said Dan Casey, the firm’s managing partner. The firm lent another one of its lawyers to PaineWebber. “He learned the culture. Those kinds of experiences are valuable for the client who gets a need filled and for the lawyer who learns the inner workings of the [company] so that when he returns [to the firm] he can better serve the client,” Casey said. Diversification counts To keep pace with current demand as well as to ensure their future, many firms have strengthened such practice areas such as labor, real estate, land use and intellectual property. “Diversification is very important. Those firms that … have a diverse practice will withstand any sort of challenge in the economy, Schuette said. James Berger agrees. “We have not addressed our development in a fashion that focuses on the hot topic of the month, quarter, year,” says Berger, whose 39-lawyer Berger Davis & Singerman is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Instead, Berger Davis has grown by adding practice capabilities that it either didn’t have at all or had in only a limited way, such as bankruptcy, land use and corporate securities. But unlike other firms that have added offices across the country, Berger said his has no national aspirations. “We think there is a healthy, local and referral-based clientele that is looking for a quality law firm that values them as clients.” Firms that stick to the things that have made them successful should do well, says Joseph P. Klock, managing partner at Steel Hector & Davis in Miami. “[Firms] need to move into areas that are opening up, but if you put too much time and energy into them, you may be at peril,” he said. ‘A FREE-FOR-ALL’ South Florida’s geographic position as the gateway to Latin America also has done a lot to transform the legal market. Nearly all of the region’s top-grossing firms have at least one office in South or Central America. Even 30-lawyer Atlas Pearlman in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., opened an office in Santiago, Chile, last year. For White & Case, the New York-based megafirm whose fortunes rise and fall with the global economy, the lion’s share of business in its Miami office involves outbound transactions in Latin America. “The willingness of investors to begin investing in Latin America has been a big growth engine for us,” said Charles Kline, executive partner at White & Case in Miami. While privatization in Latin America has slowed, those deals have been replaced by telecommunications deals, said Emilio Alvarez-Farre, a White & Case lawyer who has been involved in big privatization deals in several Latin countries. “That is the area I see increased activity in for the next six to 12 months,” Alvarez-Farre said. Jorge Salazar-Carillo, director of the Center of Economic Research at Florida International University, echoed Alvarez-Farre’s sentiments. “Telecommunications is a vibrant sector, just like anything that has to do with the Internet, cable and broadband,” said Salazar-Carillo. “You have companies coming in and competing with the old, privatized companies. It’s become a free-for-all.” Accordingly, Jose Valdivia of Steel Hector foresees no shortage of work out of Latin America. “We are seeing a lot of work in projects starting from the ground up or resales of previously privatized companies,” said Valdivia, who said he is working on a couple of deals involving the construction of water treatment plants in Latin America. “If you have the right players and the right resources, I think it’s an excellent region and will continue to be so,” he said. BEING EVERYWHERE While the good times may not last forever, an economic downturn isn’t necessarily bad for business, said Francis Carter of Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel in Miami. “When times are good and everyone is making money, things seem to get smoothed over. When it’s bad, people tend to find things to fight over,” he said. Because the expectation going into the new millennium has been of prosperity, many firms have viewed it as an opportunity to grow into multi-office operations, said Bill McBride, managing partner at Holland & Knight in Tampa, Florida’s biggest firm. “Most of the law firms that are being successful nationally and regionally are those practicing in a multi-office configuration in many major cities,” McBride said. “As a result, they will have strength if there is a downturn.” Such good economic times also have made it easier for lawyers to feel more comfortable about making career moves. Many see “better rewards across the street,” said Peter Twining, senior vice president of Stone Legal Resources Group, a legal recruiting firm in Boston. “It’s very much a mercenary attitude out there,” agreed Harold Diamond, regional director of Stone Legal Resources Group in Boca Raton, Fla. “People are shopping and looking for the bucks.” Where lawyers disagree is when they are asked if today’s so called “greedy associates” will find themselves first out the door when the economy turns sour. “It strikes me as being pretty clear that when there is a downturn, there will be layoffs of expensive associates,” said Brown of Shutts & Bowen. But McBride suggests such a move would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. “Law firms that cut off their young people to save money for senior partners aren’t an institution that will have much longevity,” he said. “I would think you should keep paying the younger people and let the senior partners suck it up, that would be smarter.” Hanging on to talent is that much more important in a setting where law firms are looking to grow and open new offices. “Firms are configuring themselves to be larger units of service,” said Twining, the legal recruiter in Boston. “There has been a new firm each month in this market for the last 20 months. That’s a pretty dramatic change. Atlanta isn’t much different and Miami isn’t much different.” “There is the frenetic sense that everyone needs to be bigger,” said Klock. But he warned: “If you expand too quickly and don’t pay attention to your [clients], they can become unhappy and disaffected.” And clients can be demanding. What with e-mail, faxes and cellular phones, many lawyers are forced to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Times are good, in the sense that people have made money, but it’s a hell of a hard way to make money,” said Mike Segal, managing partner of Broad and Cassel’s Miami office. “Between the demands of the clients and the modern ability to contact you just about anytime people want, for anything they want, it is not as much fun to practice law as it used to be.” In fact, Segal said, he would welcome a slowdown. “I could see some good things come from it,” he said. “To me a slowdown is a good time for us to acquire people. We want to get bigger and, frankly, a slowdown would allow us to get more quality people faster.”

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