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Seven shareholders – including the former head of litigation – are leaving the Miami office of Akerman Senterfitt, one of Florida’s largest law firms, The National Law Journal has learned. The departing lawyers include Larry Silverman, James Sammataro and Scott Cosgrove, all litigation shareholders who are starting their own Miami boutique firm; James Crosland, David Miller and Denise Heekin, shareholders who are joining Bryant, Miller & Olive of Miami; and Sean Santini, a shareholder who is joining the insurance defense firm Todd W. Boyd of Miami. Silverman has received national recognition for his pro-bono work and, in 2007, was a finalist with Cosgrove in NLJ affiliate the Daily Business Review‘s Most Effective Lawyers contest for getting a federal case dismissed that exposed Budget Rent-A-Car to at least $150 million in potential damages and could have required industry-wide changes in billing practices. News of the departures – coming on the heels of the departure of Brian Garcia, head of immigration in the Miami office, to Holland & Knight in late December – rocked the firm, according to sources within the firm. Although several lawyers said the departures are unrelated, their timing – coupled with the recent departure of three lawyers in the New York office and three in the Washington D.C. office – “doesn’t look good,” acknowledged one lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s serendipitous and it’s not a group thing, but let’s face it, eight people leaving an office does not look good,” said one Akerman lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity. But firm president Robert Zinn insists “there is no run of people leaving.” “We’re still the largest firm in Florida and we’re doing well and making money,” he said. “This is just stuff that happens. People leave firms after the first of the year – they don’t leave around Thanksgiving. We just added 21 attorneys in New York. We’re doing great.” Zinn added that he was trying to talk Silverman, Sammataro and Cosgrove into staying with Akerman. He said he told them that while he admired their entrepreneurial spirit, “this may not be the right time for them to strike out, in this economic climate.” Akerman Senterfitt has more than 500 lawyers and governmental affairs professionals, with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Madison, New York, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa, Washington D.C. and West Palm Beach. Silverman, who specializes in anti-trust and class action, said he was leaving after 11 years not because the firm is not doing well but because it is doing too well. “The firm is so healthy that they’re fairly ubiquitous,” he said. “We got conflicted out of everything.” Others who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Silverman’s replacement eight months ago as Miami litigation chair “did not sit well with many people.” Silverman was replaced by Mark Shapiro, who specializes in insurance defense. Crosland, Miller and Heekin came to Akerman in 2004 when the firm merged with the former Muller Mintz. Eleven attorneys came to the Miami office through the merger. The Crosland group failed to blend into Akerman and shift their client base from representing public employees like police and fire unions in labor and employment disputes to representing private clients, Zinn said. “Their work is not as high paying,” Zinn said. “We told them they had to develop more private clients … or transition somewhere else.” Crosland did not return calls for comment. Zinn called Santini “an outstanding attorney” who got an offer he could not refuse from a friend. Tuesday, Duane Morris announced that three former Akerman lawyers – Marvin and Jason Pickholz and Jane Wexton – joined their New York office. Marvin Pickholz was the head of litigation for Akerman’s New York office and the national co-head of its white-collar group. In May 2007, three heavyweights walked away from Akerman to join Fulbright & Jaworski’s Washington D.C. office, leaving Akerman without a white collar practice there. Richard C. Smith, the former acting chief of the fraud section at the Justice Department’s criminal division, was picked to head up the white collar practice in D.C. in 2005 a year after the office opened. Smith declined to comment for the article. But those familiar with the situation said the three were not a good fit for Akerman and that the firm has struggled to develop a national practice. “They’re having growing pains,” said a source. Miller said any implication is incorrect “that my partners and I are leaving on bad terms or were given some sort of ultimatum by Akerman.” “We have many friends at Akerman, including some with whom we have worked for decades,” Miller said. “We are leaving because of a great opportunity to mesh our primarily public sector practice with that of a firm that also has many public sector clients. The synergy with Bryant Miller Olive is obvious and the people are great, and those are the reasons we chose to move. Our relationship with Akerman and with the people who make up Akerman are nothing but positive and always have been.”

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