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Nationally prominent attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who headed the legal dream team that successfully defended O.J. Simpson in his California murder trial, is planning to open a Miami office. But the local plaintiff bar isn’t welcoming the celebrity lawyer with open arms. Some are raising questions about whether he is complying with Florida Bar rules that regulate advertising and require firms in the state to include an equity partner who is a Bar member. Cochran, who is not a Bar member, will only visit the office periodically, said his senior partner, J. Keith Givens. Local attorneys will handle the firm’s personal injury cases, its specialty. The South Florida location, the newest for the 14-office Cochran Firm, will be staffed by 10 yet-to-be hired local lawyers, according to Givens. The law firm has leased 4,000 square feet on the 33rd floor of the Bank of America at International Place building in downtown Miami. According to Lori Holcomb, director of the unlicensed practice of law for The Florida Bar, law firms in Florida must have at least one equity partner who is a member of the Bar. Givens told The Review there will eventually be a local equity partner at The Cochran Firm’s office in Miami. The firm has also started airing local cable television ads featuring Cochran. Local trial attorneys alleged The Cochran Firm is playing a game of smoke and mirrors by running the TV ads without his being a member of the Bar. “I wish him better luck than F. Lee Bailey,” cracked criminal defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn of Hirschhorn & Bieber in Coral Gables, Fla. “He did the same thing, opening up offices all over. In a way, it’s good. People can separate the reality from the myth when they see someone up close. We’ll see how well Johnnie does.” Bailey, who was also part of Simpson’s so-called dream team of defense lawyers, was one of the best-known trial lawyers in the country before a spectacular fall that ended with his disbarment in Florida. Givens defended The Cochran Firm’s heavy use of advertising and marketing, saying, “We try to comply with all the Bar rules.” He also defended the Cochran business model, saying the firm is doing exactly what national defense firms do. Additionally, he pointed out that nationally known attorney David Boies, who is a partner in a Florida law firm, is not a member of The Florida Bar, either. Stuart Grossman, one of Miami’s top plaintiffs lawyers, also questioned Cochran’s sudden entry into a crowded market. “Miami’s trial bar is recognized as one of the best trial bars in America,” said Grossman, of Grossman & Roth. “Do you think we have a shortage of trial lawyers here? Do you think Johnnie Cochran is actually going to show up in court here?” However, prominent Miami trial attorney Roy Black — a friend of Cochran’s — said Cochran is likely to succeed here, even though “Miami is a tough market to break into.” “Let’s face it, his name carries a lot of weight,” Black said. “And advertising works, whether you’re selling toothpaste or legal services.” The Cochran Firm model is to buy television time and print ads nationwide, and then open offices in strategic locations, recruiting local attorneys to run them. Clients are drawn by the fame of Johnnie Cochran; however, he handles only a few, high-profile, big-money cases. But the dependence on Cochran could also be a weakness. Questions about his health could be a hurdle for the firm to overcome. It was recently disclosed that Cochran is suffering from a neurological condition and that he is cutting back on his work schedule. The exact nature of the condition was not disclosed. The firm recently opened offices in Las Vegas and San Francisco as part of a plan to expand throughout the country and had been looking at Miami for a couple of years, Givens said. “We try to geographically situate in all the major markets in America,” he said. “We’re very excited about the location. The office is in a very prestigious location. The views are tremendous. We will be hiring a diverse group of lawyers.” Cochran is opening the Miami office in partnership with John Morgan, an Orlando, Fla., nursing home plaintiffs lawyer. Morgan will provide marketing and business advice to The Cochran Firm. Morgan and Cochran are already partners on another venture, Practice Makes Perfect, which conducts seminars for lawyers on how to market and advertise themselves. In the coming months, The Cochran Firm plans to blanket South Florida with print, television and radio advertising, Givens said. Already, television commercials consisting of close-ups of Cochran speaking have begun airing in South Florida. While most famous for successfully representing Simpson, Cochran specializes in civil law, and has rarely handled criminal matters, Givens said. His firm handles personal injury, product liability, police misconduct and consumer fraud cases.

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