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Left to right: Kacy Whitehead, Mark McElree and Elliot Strader, partners with Akerman.

Akerman is continuing to beef up in Texas, where the lateral market shows no sign of cooling off. The latest additions are two real estate partners and an insurance litigation partner in Dallas, where a 30-year-old local firm is shutting down in the wake of the moves.

Real estate lawyers Mark McElree and Kacy Whitehead left Dallas’ McElree Smith to join Akerman, while insurance litigator Elliot Strader departed an in-house position at TRT Holdings, a private holding company in Irving that owns companies including Omni Hotels & Resorts and Gold’s Gym.

Raymond Smith, the remaining partner in McElree Smith, could not be reached for immediate comment, but Whitehead said the firm, founded in 1988, will wind down.

Charles Townsend, managing partner of Akerman’s 33-lawyer Dallas office, noted that the Florida-based firm has hired nine lateral partners in Dallas since the beginning of the year, and the three new partners provide strength in real estate and litigation.

“The goal is to grow in response to our client needs. That was a need we were able to fill with those lawyers,” Townsend said.

Whitehead said she enjoyed practicing at a small firm, but McElree Smith had reached a point where it needed to add lawyers to handle the workload and offer clients more practices. Instead of expanding the small firm, Whitehead said she and McElree started looking around at other opportunities. They determined Akerman is a great fit for their real estate practice because of the firm’s network of offices and its real estate practice, she said.

She said the pair’s clients include real estate developers of all sizes and owner-operators of real estate and private equity groups. Akerman’s reach will help them build their practice outside of Texas, she added.

Strader could not be reached for comment.

McElree and Whitehead joined Akerman in late June, and Strader joined July 9, but the firm  announced the hires this month.

Akerman has added several other partners in Dallas this year, including a group of international trade lawyers who left Gardere Wynne Sewell in January. In April, litigator Matthew Schroeder also left Gardere and joined Akerman’s Dallas office.  Partners Eduardo Espinosa and Michael Napoli joined the firm’s fraud and recovery practice group from Dykema. And in July, privacy and cybersecurity partner Lori Nugent joined from Greenberg Traurig.

Townsend said the heavy activity in the Texas legal market makes it easier to open talks with lawyers looking to change firms, but the market is more competitive. He said Akerman is eyeing several areas for further expansion in Dallas this year, including middle-market M&A, labor and employment and energy lawyers. The firm’s other Texas offices are in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.


In Texas, the Legal Market Isn’t What it Used to Be

What’s So Hot About Texas? For Law Firms, Apparently Everything

Brenda Sapino Jeffreys

Senior reporter Brenda Sapino Jeffreys covers the business of law in Texas. Contact her at bjeffreys@alm.com On Twitter: @BrendaSJeffreys

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