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For the first time in 25 years, a lawyer rather than a business executive is running the law firm Gunster Yoakley. Shareholders at the West Palm Beach-based firm, with 140 lawyers in offices throughout Florida, quietly appointed longtime partner Donald Beuttenmuller as managing partner Jan. 30. Beuttenmuller, 54, has been with Gunster since 1980 and previously was a litigator; now he will devote himself solely to running the firm. Beuttenmuller said he’s actually been heading the day-to-day operations of the firm as administrative partner for the past year. He replaced Steven Campbell, a nonlawyer who was executive director of the firm. Campbell was asked to leave when the decision was made to switch to a lawyer CEO, said firm spokesman Paul Courtnell. A three-lawyer executive committee — including attorneys from the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach offices — will continue to make many key decisions, such as who makes partner and how much partners are paid. But by next year, Beuttenmuller will have the power to appoint the members of that committee. “It appeared to us that we needed someone to run the firm who understands lawyers as only a lawyer can,” explained Courtnell. “A nonlawyer would be more driven by business decisions rather than by professional and ethical decisions. The decision to appoint Don was unanimous.” Courtnell declined to discuss whether Beuttenmuller’s appointment was in any way related to its bitter leadership battle of 1999, which led to the ouster of the five-person executive committee and the departure of many lawyers in the Miami office. The firm hired consultant Hildebrandt International to make recommendations for resolving the conflict. But Michael Steven Greene, one of the three members of the current executive committee, said appointing a lawyer CEO was not one of Hildebrandt’s recommendations. Can Beuttenmuller improve morale at the 75-year-old firm and unite the lawyers, particularly in the formerly troubled Miami office? “That’s not a task one man can do,” said Greene. Still, Greene noted, Beuttenmuller spent a year working in the Miami office and “understands the needs of the southern region.” “This is a man the entire firm trusts and respects,” Greene said. “We’ve been the other route — we’ve had a lawyer, a CPA and a guy with a master’s degree running the firm. We’d just as soon have Don.” Beuttenmuller said he agreed to take the job at least partly because he suffers from severe back problems and has trouble practicing law these days because he can’t sit for long periods. “This seemed to be the best and most appropriate use of my time,” he said.

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