The name partners of Gersten & Muir are parting ways as one of the firm’s founders switches his focus from the Florida Bar to owning bars.
Departing name partner Adam Gersten, son of retired judge David Gersten, founded the Wynwood bar Gramps in 2012 and now plans to develop six more hospitality projects in South Florida. Gersten said he will maintain his Florida Bar license but devote his attention to expanding his food and beverage operations.
His former name partner, Jane Muir, is now partnering with her onetime law school negotiation coach, former Zumpano Castro partner Paula Phillips, and has rebranded the firm Phillips & Muir. Phillips brings two partners with her from Zumpano.
Meanwhile, Zumpano Castro has promoted partner Sidney Needelman to Phillips’ former role as chair of that firm’s insurance department. The firm has hired two attorneys and is looking to hire more.
Phillips brings fellow Zumpano partners Louis Kaye and Alejandro Perez with her to Phillips & Muir. Perez will chair the firm’s first party insurance litigation division and focus on insurance coverage disputes from his office in Deerfield Beach. Kaye, who is based in Orlando, joins the firm as a partner focusing on first party property insurance litigation and as an attorney fees expert witness. Phillips will work mostly out of Fort Lauderdale, but the six-lawyer firm will call Miami its base, Muir said.
In addition to insurance law, Phillips & Muir will practice transactional, trial and appellate law in such areas as commercial litigation, contracts and corporate general counsel. The firm’s work had been 60 percent transactional and 40 percent litigation, but the addition of Phillips, Kaye and Perez will triple the firm’s litigation practice, Muir said.
“It’s more like 70-30, with litigation being the larger portion of the work now,” Muir said.
Muir said that Phillips & Muir is now one of nearly 100 firms approved to represent Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida’s not-for-profit insurer of last resort and the largest insurer in the state. Phillips will be managing attorney for those Citizens’ files, along with Perez, Muir said.
Phillips and Muir met when Phillips was a University of Miami negotiation competition coach while Muir was a student. Muir went on to compete in the American Bar Association’s regional and national negotiation competitions.
The women remained friends and worked on several cases together, including a 2012 sex discrimination appeal that turned into a Native American sovereign immunity issue. The case stemmed from a complaint filed by a chiropractor’s technician who had been fired after catching her boss in a compromising position with another employee.
“There were not any news stories about the case, but it did change the law for the entire United States regarding Native American communities and their sovereign immunity,” Muir said. “It established clear guidelines for what entities can claim sovereign immunity—which is really administrative and governmental tribal entities—not business entities.”
Muir, who is secretary of the Dade County Bar Association and a former treasurer, focuses her practice on commercial litigation and transactions, and provides counsel to entrepreneurs and corporate entities. Her mother is Eleventh Circuit Judge Celeste Hardee Muir in the probate division.
Carlos Zumpano, founding partner and a manager of 12-lawyer firm Zumpano Castro, said the firm has hired Patricia Sierra as a partner in insurance defense and litigation and brought on Julio Gonzalez as of counsel for corporate transactional work.
“We were able to provide a significant amount of work for him because we have a ton of transactions right now,” Zumpano said. He said the firm is looking to hire litigators.