As the economy improves — particularly in South Florida — law firm managers predict a welcome uptick in real estate and transactional work in 2014.
Additionally, Miami law firm managers are expecting another burgeoning practice area this year: international arbitrations, which are starting to arrive in Miami in strong numbers.
That’s the good news. On the down side, firms universally are preparing for a slide in bankruptcy work this year. And it’s the same old story for litigation: steady and strong.
“I think at this point we see the economy is going to continue on the uptick, which means that real estate will continue to pick up and bankruptcy filings will stay level if not decline,” said Jeff Schneider, managing partner of Miami-based Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman. “And litigation seems to be fairly constant whether times are good or times are bad.”
Adds founding partner David Levine with a laugh: “Litigation is always strong — this is South Florida, after all.”
Byrd “Biff” Marshall, president and CEO of GrayRobinson, sees the same things in his crystal ball, saying that corporate transactional work has only recently started to improve.
“Corporate has been the slowest to turn around,” he said, adding, “I do think real estate will continue to improve, and bankruptcy will continue softening.”
Marshall, like other law firm heads, attributes the improvement to banks starting to let go of their cash and hand out loans somewhat freely again for the first time since the recession.
Marshall is so bullish on the economy — particularly in South Florida — that he is predicting 5 to 10 percent growth in GrayRobinson’s revenues in 2014.
Miami-based Shutts and Bowen is painting a rosy picture for 2014, too, after witnessing a continued uptick in business loans for both business expansion and construction industries, according to managing partner Joe Bolton.
“We’re optimistic,” he said. “We see a continued uptick in both construction, residential and commercial real estate, and an increase in tourist-related development and construction.”
However, Shutts is a bit mystified why, with all the good news on the economy, residential and commercial foreclosures are not abating. “It’s very odd,” Bolton noted.
Jeff Ostrow, managing partner of Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Keechl, foresees a continued real estate surge in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale — two places the firm has offices.
The firm’s real estate clients run the gamut, from single-family homes in west Broward to apartment buildings in Miami to commercial construction projects in both counties.
Ostrow is particularly optimistic about downtown Fort Lauderdale, where projects are being proposed, for the first time, in an area south of the New River, west of Andrews Avenue and north of Broward Boulevard.
“I think Fort Lauderdale will experience a boom,” Ostrow said. “I see a 36- to 48-month window of significant construction. There is such potential in Fort Lauderdale. Thousands of people are going to be moving downtown in the next few years and there will be unbelievable opportunity for developers.”
Ostrow also predicts growth in another practice area, family law. “For whatever reason, people are at a place where they feel comfortable getting divorced,” he said. “We are starting to see an increased flow of new dissolutions.”
In the world of insurance law, Russel Lazega, founding member of Dania Beach-based Florida Advocates, expects to see a large spike in litigation involving property owners making water loss claims.
“Citizen’s and other property insurers have taken a much more aggressive view of paying water loss claims,” said Lazega, who primarily represents individuals. “When a pipe bursts and damages a property, they try to say it was a slow leak and happened over a period of time.”
But Lazega and other insurance lawyers can’t predict what they will see in 2014 with certainty, as legislation is constantly being proposed in Tallahassee, particularly in the personal injury protection arena. Several bills have already been introduced, Lazega noted.