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In the latest move by an out-of-state law firm into one of South Florida’s hottest specialty niches, the country’s third-largest labor and employment firm is merging with a Miami boutique firm and will open its first Florida office Jan. 1. Atlanta-based Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart announced that it is merging with five-lawyer Whelan DeMaio & Kiszkiel in Miami. Shareholder David DeMaio said the changing dynamics in the marketplace persuaded him and his partners to join up with a larger firm. But shareholder Stanley Kiszkiel, former regional counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will not be joining the new shop. Kiszkiel said he planned to open his own firm in Pembroke Pines before merger talks began. Ogletree Deakins has 190 lawyers in 18 offices. The Miami office of the firm will have four lawyers — shareholders DeMaio and Michael Whelan and associates Mike Davey and Kelly Cartus Hughes. The firm is also opening a New Jersey office on Jan. 1. The firm does defense work only. Whelan DeMaio represents the county governments of Broward and Palm Beach, Louisville-based managed health care giant Humana and Psychiatric Solutions in Coral Gables. Kiszkiel is the only lawyer there who also does plaintiff work. Ogletree is just the latest national labor and employment law firm to branch into Florida in recent months. San Francisco-based Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest labor and employment law firm, entered the Miami market in April, but in a different manner. Instead of merging with an existing firm, Littler raided the local talent pool, hiring away nine lawyers from other firms. That firm said it had been looking to open a Florida practice for a decade. In another recent significant development, Akerman Senterfitt acquired 22-attorney firm Muller Mintz of Miami and Orlando, a firm that focused on labor and employment. “I think it’s just further recognition of the growth of South Florida,” said Bill Amlong, a veteran Fort Lauderdale labor and employment plaintiff lawyer. “There’s a lot more industry here, there are huge cruise lines here. And labor and employment law is getting increasingly sophisticated. It’s not something some personal injury lawyer can just walk into, or even a corporate counsel.” Gray Geddie, managing shareholder of Ogletree Deakins, said his firm wanted a Florida presence because “we have a lot of clients that have operations in Florida and we had been referring our business out to other firms. We had several firms on our radar screen.” Founded in 1977, Ogletree represents such clients as Michelin, HCA and General Electric. Geddie said his firm approached Whelan DeMaio about a merger. Whelan, which formed in 1991, had been courted in previous years but wanted to maintain its boutique atmosphere. But the market changed in recent years. DeMaio said that most employers now purchase employment practice liability insurance, and the insurers maintain lists of law firms they use. “The choices of which lawyers to hire are not being made by the company but by the insurer,” he said. In addition, he said, it’s difficult for small boutiques to compete with larger firms in recruiting top law graduates. Still, DeMaio said, “there’s always some trepidation when you leave a large firm, start a boutique, then go back to a large firm.” Kiszkiel said he will open an office a mile from his Pembroke Pines home. “It was a lifestyle choice,” said Kiszkiel, 55. “I commuted to Miami from Broward since 1985. “I made this decision before there was any talk of merging. I told my partners this was my last year. I just finished paying my daughter’s last year of college tuition.”

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