Three more lawyers have left White & Case’s Miami office to start their own firm, joining a growing number of lawyers who have departed in recent years.
The office lost nine lawyers in the previous year, reducing its total to 81, according to numbers provided by White & Case to the Daily Business Review for its annual Review 100 survey.
The latest departing attorneys have started Alvarez Arrieta & Diaz-Silveira to focus on transactions.
Pedro “Tony” Alvarez, Albert Diaz-Silveira and associate Aracely Alicea left White & Case to launch Alvarez Arrieta & Diaz-Silveira two weeks ago. They were joined by former White & Case partner Alex Arrieta. Arrieta left White & Case last year to work at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson.
Alvarez, a 25-year lawyer at White & Case and a partner since 1989, said he and his colleagues decided to leave the New York-based firm because “it became the right time for us to venture out from the big firms.
“I think it was a move that was more personal than anything else,” he said. “We all wanted to give it a try. It was now or never.”
Alvarez said their goal was to launch a transactional firm focusing on mergers and acquisitions, real estate transactions and deals. Alvarez Arrieta & Diaz-Silveira will not handle litigation.
Eschewing the big-firm model, Alvarez Arrieta & Diaz-Silveira will avoid high overhead, offer lower fees and serve clients with personalized relationships, Alvarez said.
“We are coming away from representing big institutions,” he said. “We want to build relationships and practice law the way it used to be.”
There are no immediate plans for any other White & Case lawyers to join the firm, Alvarez said, adding the split from White & Case was amicable.
The recent departures follow a string of others from White & Case over the last few years, including at least 28 in 2010 nationally. During the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009, the firm laid off hundreds of lawyers and staff. Earlier this week, one of The Am Law 100‘s strongest bankruptcy and restructuring firms saw two New York partners leave, with Evan Hollander and Gerard Uzzi joining Arnold & Porter and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, respectively.
Sources say the Miami office is a “pass-through” office, churning out work for the New York office on behalf of wealthy Latin American clients at high fees, and some Miami lawyers there are frustrated by having little contact with clients.
A White & Case spokesperson did not return calls for comment by deadline.
Joe Ankus, a longtime legal headhunter and executive director of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants, said it’s not unusual for junior and midrange partners to leave major firms like White & Case, which ranks ninth on The Am Law 100, to spin off their own boutiques.
“The firms are reluctant to allow the junior partners to bring in below market rate business because their overhead prevents them from doing it,” Ankus said. “The biggest variable is overhead. It’s the killer. The younger partners want to bring in the second or third tier of business and grow a book of business, so they spin off a firm. I don’t think it sets off alarm bells. I think it’s consistent with them wanting to be entrepreneurial, plus they don’t have nearly the conflicts they would in a large firm.”
That doesn’t mean there doesn’t continue to be a place for the big law firms like White & Case, Ankus noted.
“The good news is these large firms have such a good reputation and such great technical expertise that the larger Fortune 500 clients love them,” he said.
White & Case saw gross revenue increase 4.1 percent to more than $1.3 billion in 2011, while profits per partner dropped 5.1 percent to nearly $1.5 million as the firm made a number of new investments and weathered a series of lateral departures and cracked down on unproductive partners. The firm’s financial restructuring group is headed by Thomas Lauria, who splits his time between Miami and New York and was named a Dealmaker of the Year by The American Lawyer in 2011.
The firm served as bankruptcy counsel to Major League Baseball this year in the record-setting $2.15 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers.