GrayRobinson Partner Mayanne Downs, left, and President and Managing Director Dean Cannon, right. GrayRobinson partner Mayanne Downs, left, and incoming president and managing director Dean Cannon. Courtesy photo.

 

GrayRobinson president and managing director Mayanne Downs will step down from the top spot at the firm at the end of the firm’s fiscal year, on Aug.  31. Executive Vice President and former Florida House speaker Dean Cannon will take over, becoming the fourth leader of the nearly 300-attorney law firm and lobbying powerhouse.

Downs said she is stepping away from the leadership position to concentrate on her litigation practice, which focuses on high-profile, high-exposure cases.

“I can’t run this law firm and have my practice,” Downs told The Daily Business Review. “I want to go back to litigating and representing my clients.”

Her new role and title have not yet been decided, the firm said.

Downs was elevated to the top position in June 2016 after joining the firm in 2012. She was the firm’s first female president and the third leader in the firm’s history. She replaced Byrd “Biff” Marshall, who held the position for 24 years and remains board chairman.

Downs was a decisive leader who exerted unusual control for a law firm of GrayRobinson’s size. She was both president and managing director, and she could unilaterally hire or fire attorneys. Marshall, who once referred to Downs as a “benevolent dictator,” came from the same tradition of strong leadership.

Cannon says he will lead in the same vein. Downs, Marshall and Cannon see this centralized leadership as one of the firm’s biggest strengths.

“The strong centralized leadership model we have makes us stronger, more agile,” Cannon said, “and it allows us to pivot to changes, whether it be technology or culture.”

Cannon first joined GrayRobinson in 1995 when the firm had only a few dozen attorneys. He left in 2007, three years into his eight-year stint as a member of the Florida House. In 2010, he was elected speaker.

Cannon ran his own firm for nine years and left the Legislature in 2012, rejoining GrayRobinson in 2016 when the firm absorbed his lobbying shop, Capitol Insight.

“The merger blends the political influence of Capitol Insight with the horsepower and statewide footprint of GrayRobinson,” Marshall said at the time. Since Cannon reunited with GrayRobinson, the firm has steadily increased lobbying income. In 2018, revenue from lobbying was up 21 percent, Marshall said.

Cannon lobbies on behalf of more than 80 companies, industry groups and municipalities, including the cities of Orlando and West Palm Beach, Frito-Lay, IMG College and Gatorade, according to state lobbying records. Cannon sees lobbying as similar to litigating.

“A litigator takes a client’s issue and goes before the judicial branch,” he said. “A lobbyist takes a client’s issue and goes to the other two branches.”

After a decade of continuous revenue growth, GrayRobinson saw revenues dip 0.8 percent last year. The firm’s head count also contracted by 7.1 percent from 297 attorneys to 276. Its profit growth remained steady, however, and profit per equity partner increased by 7.2 percent.

GrayRobinson also took its first dive into influencing the federal government, opening a Washington, D.C., office with the boutique lobbying firm Eris Group. The expansion was the first outside of Florida in the firm’s 50-year history, and Downs heralded it as “a serious long bet” for the firm.

In Tallahassee, the firm reported a roster of 23 lobbyists and more than 150 clients in 2019, according to state lobbying records. As firms are only required to report a range of compensation, GrayRobinson’s compensation for 2018 was between $3.5 million and $4 million.

Cannon said he will “continue to fill out our footprint in Florida,” though he would not disclose what areas GrayRobinson is looking to expand. The firm has offices in 14 Florida cities. Cannon also said he aims to add to the firm’s D.C. office and shore up practice areas beyond lobbying, including aviation, health care and international law. He said he wants to leverage Florida’s status as a “hemispheric gateway” to international trade.

Read more:

GrayRobinson Posts Flat Revenue as Firm Streamlines Operations

GrayRobinson Makes Rare Leadership Transition With Female Managing Partner