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One year after Holland & Knight moved to slash expenses in the face of partner unrest and threatened defections, the 1,300-lawyer firm concluded 2002 with improved revenues and strengthened confidence among its lawyers, according to managing partner Robert R. Feagin III. “What we did was to demonstrate to ourselves that we could make some changes in some difficult times, dealing with costs and personnel and basic realignment of resources, so that we managed ourselves in a more businesslike way,” said Feagin, whose term at the helm is scheduled to end after elections next month. At the same time, he said, the firm maintained its level of pro bono work, a focus long regarded as a core element of the Holland & Knight corporate culture, but one that came under attack because of its costs. While Feagin would not disclose precise numbers, he said that per partner compensation at the firm — a major point of contention last year — has increased by an average of 20 percent. According to American Lawyer magazine’s annual survey of large firms, in 2001 Holland’s $395,000 in profits per equity partner put it behind all but two other firms in the Am Law 100 list. Peter Prieto, executive partner for the firm’s Miami office, said that firmwide revenues topped $500 million for the year past, compared with about $465 million in 2001. He attributed the increase to a boost in litigation business. Still, the cutbacks made to buttress the firm’s finances are evident. The firm laid off 60 lawyers and 170 other staffers. The pay structure for associates was overhauled, with step raises now tied more closely to performance than to years at the firm. Pay raises are now more discretionary and less tied to billable hour standards, Feagin said. The once proudly announced program to give lower level staffers a living wage is no longer being extended to new hires, though Feagin said he still considered staff salary levels “fair and competitive.” The firm’s annual all-lawyers meeting, a tradition that was canceled last year because of its cost, has yet to be reinstated. The firm, which had grown from 275 lawyers to 1,275 in the space of 10 years, was reeling from diminished profits largely due to expansion costs and a slowdown in business due to the sagging economy that was made worse by the Sept. 11 events in New York and Washington, where the Tampa, Fla.-based firm has a major presence. Dissatisfaction with partner pay that was well behind that at competing firms led some within Holland & Knight to predict widespread defections and a possible collapse of the firm. Greenberg Traurig, for example, a 775-lawyer, Florida-founded firm, had 2002 profits of $690,000 per equity partner, compared with Holland’s $355,000, according to the Am Law 100 survey. Some partners did leave over the pay issue, but not in great numbers. And the firm continued ahead with its expansion, completing a merger with a Chicago firm in mid-2002. Feagin said that with the help of accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, the company underwent an across-the-board cost analysis, called the Black Ink Project, under which the pro bono programs also came under scrutiny. “What we had to do was show we were willing to submit our pro bono activities and costs to the same analysis we submitted other aspects of the firm, to do a cost-benefit ratio,” he said, and to determine whether that work was drawing lawyer effort away from paying clients. “It’s not,” he said. “It is adding to our ability to distinguish ourselves from our competitors by creating in clients’ minds a view of Holland & Knight that is favorable.” Feagin said the issue of partner pay clearly required critical attention. “We set goals for ourselves. We wanted to increase per partner compensation in the 20 percent range, on average.” While the numbers haven’t been released, he added, “clearly everybody understands we met that goal, by that and slightly more … That ain’t the whole story, but it’s part of the story.” Executives at three major competing firms said they’re seeing no signs of new turbulence at Holland & Knight, and that Holland partners are not beating down their doors to flee the firm. “I’m not hearing the sky is falling,” said one managing partner at another firm, who asked not to be identified. Two former Holland partners lauded Feagin for his work in tough times. “Bob did yeoman’s work,” said Steven J. Uhlfelder, former executive partner of the Tallahassee office. “The partners I speak to are pretty happy,” said Uhlfelder, who left the firm for solo practice last March. “Bob Feagin has done a very good job in the year or so he’s been managing partner to address profitability, cost controls and partner compensation, while still retaining the family atmosphere at Holland & Knight,” said Bruce Stone, who left recently for personal reasons to join a four-lawyer firm. “We all dug in our heels. We really did,” Stone added. “Everybody paid attention to it.” Stone said that at small firms, everyone is highly conscious costs, since they realize that they only keep what’s left over after expenses are paid. At a large firm, that sense of responsibility needs to be instilled, and that’s what needed to take place at Holland, he said. “People were a lot better over the last year at Holland & Knight than the year before.” Equity partners will get a chance to register their feelings on the firm’s direction in mid-March, when they elect a new managing partner, though insiders tend to be tight-lipped about these internal competitions and candidates’ platforms. Feagin, who took over when Bill McBride left to run for governor in June 2001, has said that he does not plan to run for re-election. Among those who are said to be in the running are former American Bar Association president Martha Barnett from the Tallahassee, Fla., office, who was the firm’s first female lawyer; and Howell W. Melton Jr., a contract and business tort litigator who recently moved from Orlando, Fla., to New York. Both candidates embody the firm’s traditional values of a strong focus on community service, said Bruce Stone, a prominent former partner in Miami and onetime member of the firm’s board of governors, who recently left Holland & Knight. Barnett, for one, has lobbied for Fortune 500 companies but in 1994 persuaded the Florida Legislature to pay black survivors of the 1923 Rosewood race massacre $150,000 each for their losses. Neither Melton nor Barnett returned calls requesting comment.

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