Michael B. Shapiro knows what it’s like to take career risks. That’s because he has done it. Twice.
In 1980, he left a job with the U.S. Department of Labor to pursue a law degree. Then a decade later, Shapiro left his job as an attorney at a Fort Lauderdale real estate law firm to start his own practice in Boca Raton.
He still recalls the insecurities that came with starting a law firm on his own.
“The fear when you go out on your own is that you are going to wind up doing condo closings, you are not going to get big, sophisticated deals. It was scary,” Shapiro said.
When he left Goldberg & Young to go solo, he successfully took some of the firm’s clients, clients for whom he had done the majority of the work while at the firm.
Still, starting on his own was difficult.
“Can I handle it?” he asked himself. He worried he might not be able to give his clients the same quality of service.
Now, Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman & Hermann in Boca Raton has been through expansions and provides litigation and transaction services. Shapiro serves as managing partner and head of the commercial real estate practice.
He had his eye on Boca Raton when he moved there to work for Goldberg & Young in 1986. At the time, the city and surrounding areas were relatively undeveloped. Shapiro noted big law firms didn’t have offices there.
“I thought from Pompano [Beach] to Lake Worth, the whole north Broward-southern Palm Beach really as a unique, independent kind of area with a lot of wealth and a lot of potential for growth. Much more so than the downtown areas of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, which were pretty much developed even in the ’80s,” Shapiro said.
When he decided to strike out on his own, he opened his office on the southwest corner of Powerline Road and Palmetto Park Road. The firm became Shapiro & Dector when he was joined by Andrew Dector, who still is with the firm.
From 2001 to 2002 and again in 2015, the firm grew significantly. Now it has 24 attorneys.
Some of the larger firms have sought to buy Shapiro Blasi, but the firm has rejected takeover offers, he added.
“The carrot that they dangle is the same carrot. ‘When Shapiro and Blasi and Wasserman get older, the firm is just going to go away. What are you going to do?’ ” Shapiro said. “ I started thinking to myself, ‘In a way, he is right.’ But so what? It’s not like I needed to have a legacy. I made a career for myself for 30 years, and I did really well.’ So I said, ‘Fine. We go away. I had a great career.’ ”
But his thinking changed, to a point.
With the 2015 expansion, several younger attorneys joined, and they will take over the firm when the senior partners retire, Shapiro added.
‘KIND OF FUN’
Shapiro, 67, didn’t set out to be an attorney.
After obtaining his master’s in education and education specialist degrees from the University of Florida in 1975, he began working for the U.S. Department of Labor in Gainesville.
He was a vocational counselor and then supervisor in a federally subsidized program helping hard-to-employ people find work.
“You are taking people who otherwise would be very difficult for them to get employment, and you are inducing private-sector hiring by government subsidy,” Shapiro said.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and there was an expectation that his administration would disband Shapiro’s program, which was marred by fraud allegations, Shapiro said. Those two things prompted him to quit and go to law school.
When Shapiro struck out on his own, litigation cases came his way, but he wanted to stick to real estate law.
“I just enjoy transaction work. I don’t really like fighting with people over stuff, although you have that when you are negotiating,” he said.
Often, he can spot the fruits of his labor.
“Every time I drive by BrandsMart, I think, ‘I did that deal.’ They wouldn’t be able to drain in that property if it wasn’t for my drainage easement,” he said. “It’s kind of fun.”
MICHAEL B. SHAPIRO
Born: 1950, Washington, D.C.
Children: Adam and Elizabeth
Education: University of Florida, J.D. 1984, M.Ed. and Ed.S. 1975, B.S. 1972
Experience: Partner, Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman & Hermann, 1990-present; Associate, Goldberg & Young, 1986-1990; Associate, Fine, Jacobson, Schwartz, Nash, Block & England, 1984-1986; Supervisor, U.S. Department of Labor, 1975-1981