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Holland & Knight is one of Florida’s corporate success stories, with roots that trace back to the Tampa law practice of Peter O. Knight in 1889. With 1,240 lawyers, the firm today is one of the six largest in the country. But while aggressive expansion in recent years has given the firm a national and even global reach, it also has brought the firm to the point where the majority of its lawyers no longer are based in Florida. Now, with the recent resignation of Tampa-based managing partner Bill McBride to run for Florida governor, the firm faces the unprecedented possibility that the legal giant could be run by a chief executive from outside Florida. In a way, it already is. In June, Robert Feagin was appointed to the managing partner post to complete McBride’s term, which ends in March 2002. Feagin divides his time between Holland’s Tallahassee office and its Chicago outpost, which was established in February of last year. Feagin was chairman of Holland’s director’s committee, which oversees strategy and policy issues. About half the 24 partners on that committee are from out-of-state. When Feagin moved into the managing partner slot, partner Tom Swaim of the Boston office — whose firm merged with Holland & Knight in 1998 — became chairman of the committee. “I don’t think it would surprise anyone that someone would be considered [for managing partner] from outside Florida,” says Swaim. “We’re now a national firm and some of us see it as an international firm.” Swaim says that when he took the chairmanship, a number of people, including partners from Florida, told him they were pleased that someone from out-of-state was chosen, because, they said, “it’s consistent with where we’re going.” No candidates have announced yet for managing partner, the full-time CEO post with responsibility for day-to-day operations of the firm. The election is scheduled to take place in February. But the numbers clearly favor an out-of-state candidate, given that the firm has a policy of one partner, one vote. Currently, 410 of the firm’s 745 partners, or 55 percent, are based outside Florida. As recently as 1993, the firm had fewer than 300 lawyers, mostly in Florida. Under McBride’s leadership, the firm expanded rapidly. It now boasts offices in 24 U.S. cities, including 11 in Florida. It also has seven offices outside the country, in Caracas, Helsinki, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. In South Florida, according to the Daily Business Review‘s annual ranking of top law firms, published July 15, Holland has 178 partners and ranks second only to Greenberg Traurig in gross revenues, pulling in $71.5 million last year. The firm’s stated intention to continue expanding domestically and internationally indicates an increasing probability that its center of gravity and management control will shift out of Florida. Both Feagin and Swaim downplay the significance of that possibility. “We don’t have a headquarters,” Feagin says. “The culture of our firm is ingrained in all of our offices, and the people who join our firm join with the understanding and acceptance of that culture.” But John Sumberg, managing partner of 47-lawyer Bilzin Sumberg Dunn Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami, contends that maintaining a uniform culture is easier for a smaller, in-state firm. And having local decision-making power allows a firm to be more responsive to people in the firm, he adds. “They’re not a Florida firm anymore,” Sumberg says. Historically, Holland has powerful ties to Florida. Co-founder Spessard Holland served as the state’s Democratic governor in the 1940s and as U.S. senator from 1946 to 1970. Bill McBride’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor is a continuation of that tradition. But now the firm is reaching into the halls of power elsewhere as well. Warren Tolman, a Holland partner in Boston, recently left the firm to run as the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts. “I think we had moved away, some time ago, from this as a Florida company,” Feagin says. “We have been thinking of ourselves as a national law firm, and now as an international law firm. I don’t think a thing is lost in that.”

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