In 1993, now-Holland & Knight partner Miguel De Grandy was a star in the Florida Legislature.
A Republican in an era of Democratic domination, De Grandy had developed a reputation as a moderate lawmaker able to deftly work with the majority party. That year, the Miami Herald named him the most effective Republican House representative for the third year in a row.
Twenty-six years later, De Grandy is still using the skill set he picked up as a legislator, whether he’s working out a deal with Miami commissioners to find a new home for the Ultra Music Festival, or securing a site for a domestic-violence shelter funded by a 1 percent tax on food and beverages that he helped pass years ago.
But it was as a legislator more than 25 years ago that De Grandy honed the skills he uses today. In 1993, he was championing a bill that would decriminalize breastfeeding in public. At the time, public breastfeeding was punishable by a litany of Florida statutes, including indecent exposure and obscenity.
To get the bill passed, De Grandy needed to walk a tightrope. Even with verbal and ideological support of the Democratic majority, potential laws grinding through the statehouse can be sunk for numerous reasons. So when his bill was put in front of a house committee, De Grandy pulled out all the stops.
In the lead-up to the hearing, De Grandy was working behind the scenes to gin up support. He spoke to the women’s caucus, telling them “breastfeeding is an issue deeply connected to women.” Then he went to his more conservative colleagues, informing them that “breastfeeding is about family values.” He then lobbied for support from members who championed climate issues, saying “how many tons of solid waste can we eliminate from landfills if we encourage breastfeeding over formula?”
When it came time for his committee hearing, De Grandy packed the room with supporters, including then-Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles’ own daughter, Rhea, and a breastfeeding advocacy group, La Leche League.
“By the time that bill hit the floor it was unstoppable,” he said. “The conservatives, the liberal feminists, the environmentalists had nothing in common. But if you talk to people on terms they can understand, they respond.”
The Florida House of Representatives approved the bill 107-8. The Florida Senate passed the bill unanimously. Chiles signed it into law. And De Grandy learned a valuable lesson he has applied throughout his career and now as the practice group leader for Holland & Knight’s South Florida government advocacy and development group.
“Appeal to people on issues they care about,” he said, adding that every elected official has a cause, and you just have to show them why a client’s cause aligns with theirs.
After graduating from the University of Florida, De Grandy worked a few years as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade. Several years later, he wound up opening the firm Concepcion, De Grandy & Sexton with his childhood friend and college roommate, Carlos Concepcion.
Concepcion, a renowned international arbitrator and president of the Miami International Arbitration Society, said that De Grandy has had the public policy bug since their early days in law school. While Concepcion was business-oriented and bookish, De Grandy was drawn to the practical application of the law.
“We were great friends, and I certainly enjoyed him in law school, but it was clear we were working in different directions,” Concepcion said.
De Grandy’s job as a legislator was demanding: it left his practice, by his own recollection, “in shambles.” So after leaving Concepcion, De Grandy & Sexton and retiring from the Legislature, he took a job at Greenberg Traurig as the chairman of the firm’s governmental and administrative law group.
In 2001, he opened his own private firm. And in 2013 he moved to Holland & Knight.
Over the years, De Grandy has had his hands in a lot of pots. He’s represented several municipalities, including the cities of Sweetwater and Coral Gables, during the annexation process. He’s done extensive redistricting work, taking a case he brought against the Democratic-controlled state Legislature all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To De Grandy, government service is almost a prerequisite to an effective land use practice. Understanding the inner-machinations of government through personal experience is invaluable when on the other side representing a client.
Akerman’s land use practice head, Neisen Kasdin, whose political career included a stint as mayor of Miami Beach, agrees.
“Sometimes you get ex-politicians who have a weak understanding of the law, and other times you get a good lawyer with a poor understanding of government and politics,” Kasdin said. “Miguel has both.”
Miguel De Grandy
Born: 1958 Havana, Cuba
Children: Ryan, Kelsea, Sean and Ashley
Education: University of Florida, J.D. , 1981 ; University of Florida B.A., 1979
Experience: Partner, Holland & Knight, 2013-present; Founder, Miguel De Grandy, P.A., 2001-2013; Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig 1994-2001; Legislator, Florida State House of Representatives, 1989-1994; Co-founding Partner, Concepcion, De Grandy and Sexton, 1990-1993; Founder, Miguel De Grandy, P.A., 1983-1990; State Attorney, Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney, 1981-1983.