The leadership baton has been passed from one generation to the next at Akerman, with David Spector succeeding 10-year chairman and CEO Andrew Smulian at the law firm with more attorneys in Florida than any other.
Smulian was toasted at a dinner Tuesday on the balcony of Akerman’s modern Miami office with two other former chairmen in attendance.
It now falls to Spector, an insurance, health care and legal malpractice litigator, to lead Akerman as fellow Am Law 100 firms navigate a tech-driven world under pressure to perform from professionals outside the legal world.
Akerman’s latest financial report is pending, but Spector on Wednesday projected another year of record growth for the firm with 650 attorneys and business professionals in 24 U.S. offices. The 98-year-old firm ranked 97th on the latest Am Law 100 list, with $349 million in revenue.
Spector is not broadcasting change after serving on the firm’s executive committee, board of directors and strategic planning committee. He intends to build on the foundation shaped by Smulian, whom he calls “a visionary in law firm innovation,” and whose work has earned Akerman a place on the Financial Times list of the top 25 innovative law firms for three years running.
Spector rattled off such efforts as a client-focused, future-looking R&D council, and AkermanX, a framework for innovative programs like a judicial analytics program, a tax compliance matrix and a data law center that uses artificial intelligence to brief clients on data privacy and security compliance. In 2013, the firm also joined LAB Miami, a tech startup incubator in the trendy Wynwood district.
On the client side, DBR affiliate Corporate Counsel just named Akerman the top law firm choice of finance and insurance companies. Spector’s firm profile lists State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. as notable clients. The firm draws many of its clients from middle-market companies, notably for M&A work.
“Traditionally, that has been a sweet spot for us,” Spector said. “We are lucky to be in a firm with such a long history that remains pretty agile.”
He carved out a place for himself at the firm as the co-founder of a fraud and recovery practice group primarily focused on eradicating insurance, health care, banking and retail fraud. As part of the transition, former Texas state prosecutor Sandra Heller, a Fort Lauderdale partner, takes over as the group’s chair.
While Akerman’s largest presence is in Florida, the firm’s focus for recent growth has been in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas, Denver and Washington, D.C. Spector plans to announce “some significant growth” soon in and out of Florida. The firm has grown rapidly, mostly through acquisitions and lateral hires in new markets.
Spector fits the lateral profile. The rapid-riser joined Akerman in 2009 from Schwarzberg Spector Duke Schulz & Rogers in West Palm Beach after a partnership at the defunct Steel Hector & Davis, which was absorbed in 2005 by what’s now Squire Patton Boggs.
He was Smulian’s hand-picked successor in September 2016 and was elected to a three-year term. Spector is affable and excited to be taking charge after an “exceptionally smooth” transition at a firm that values partners interested in leadership posts and “a wonderful culture for coming to work every day.”
Spector has four children ranging in age from 7 to 15 and with understatement, calls it “an active household.” With “a supportive family” and a wife who practiced law for 10 years, he doesn’t foresee personal upheaval in his new professional role.
In other management changes, Smulian is staying on as a partner and is handling special projects; Jonathan Awner and Carl Roston succeed M&A partner Mary Carroll as co-chairs of the corporate practice group; Leslie Miller Tomczak takes over as Fort Lauderdale office managing partner from Eric Rapkin; and Rapkin succeeds Richard Bezold as chair of the real estate practice group.