The Daily Business Review recently featured Gunster as one in a series focused on mid-sized law firms discussing challenges, opportunities and a changing marketplace. Below are the questions and responses as submitted by the firm.
Bill Perry and George LeMieux head a corporate law firm with roots dating back to its founding in 1925 in West Palm Beach. Perry, as the firm’s managing shareholder and CEO, oversees the day-to-day operations of the firm. LeMieux serves as the chairman of the firm’s board of directors. Together, their partnership has grown Gunster into one of the state’s leading law firms and have set their sights on the road to turning 100.
How big is your firm, where is it located, and what are its primary areas of practice and focus?
As Florida’s law firm for business, Gunster provides full-service legal counsel to leading organizations and individuals from our 13 statewide offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, Stuart, Tallahassee, the Florida Keys, Vero Beach and Winter Park. The firm has been serving businesses and prominent individuals and families in Florida for more than 90 years.
With nearly 200 attorneys based solely in Florida, Gunster is ranked among the National Law Journal’s list of the 500 largest law firms in the U.S. We are proud to also be among Law360’s Top 100 Diverse Law Firms, reflecting Florida’s diverse culture.
Gunster’s areas of focus match the economy of Florida: real estate and land use; business litigation; private wealth services; banking and financial services; mergers and acquisitions; tax, labor and employment; immigration; environmental; eminent domain; and government affairs.
Please explain your firm’s governance structure and compensation model.
The firm is managed by managing shareholder H. William “Bill” Perry and governed by a six-person board of directors, chaired by George S. LeMieux. Other members of the board include Gunster shareholders Elaine Bucher, Angel A. Cortinas, David G. Bates and David M. Wells. The firm is organized into eight practice groups managed by leaders situated throughout the firm’s 13 statewide offices.
In 2016, the firm promoted four additional shareholders to leadership positions within the firm: Lila Jaber of Tallahassee became regional managing shareholder, Derek E. Bruce and Allison E. Turnbull became Orlando office managing shareholders, and Bill Adams became the Jacksonville office managing shareholder. In addition to their legal practices, these managing shareholders work to advance the firm’s strategic direction, including recruiting and integrating top talent in the various regions throughout Florida where Gunster has a presence.
Gunster’s leadership philosophy is stewardship and service. Lawyers volunteer for leadership positions to advance the practice and our culture. All firm lawyers in leadership work as “player coaches” and practice while undertaking firm management.
What do you view as the two biggest opportunities for your firm, and what are the two biggest threats?
With an estimated 1,000 people moving to Florida every day and an expected $1 trillion economy by the end of the year, we see Florida’s growth as our biggest opportunity. Our statewide and state wise focus makes us well-suited to help clients achieve their business and personal goals and navigate and influence the legal system to their benefit. Gunster is one of only a few commercial, Florida-only law firms with a nationally sophisticated practice and statewide office platform to serve our clients’ needs. Gunster offers a level of expertise, knowledge and relationships throughout Florida that is difficult to match.
The challenges our firm faces are not unique to Gunster. They include an ever-changing political environment, which can affect everything from tax and fiscal policy to water usage, the entrance of more out-of-state firms following their clients from the Northeast and the increased presence of nonlawyer providers seeking work historically done by law firms.
After the recession hit, the prevailing theory was that midsize firms would start to see more work come their way from large clients who could no longer justify paying Big Law rates. What has been your experience?
As many Florida firms have turned their focus away from Florida to the Northeast or internationally, we have double-downed on Florida. Our sophisticated practice in the wealth and commercial centers of Florida offers our clients first rate services at Florida prices. This has been a meaningful advantage as our competitors have set their sights, and rates, on more expensive markets. As a result, we are as busy as we have ever been and find increasing requests for our services from Fortune 500 companies as well as prominent Florida businesses and individuals. We have also attracted first-rate talent during and after the recession from general counsel of top businesses, to Supreme Court and appellate judges, to the best and brightest law students.
Are your clients pushing for more alternative fee arrangements, and if so what types? Is your firm amenable to those requests?
We work with clients to determine the best fee arrangement for the job, and alternative fee arrangements are certainly part of that. The goal is a successful result for the client that will build a lifelong relationship. Fair rates for the work performed, and flexibility on how those rates are set, are important aspects of customer service. At the end of the engagement, we want our client happy with the result obtained and the value received for the fee paid.
There is much debate around how law firms can foster the next generation of legal talent. What advantages and disadvantages do midsize firms have in attracting and retaining young lawyers, particularly millennials?
Excellence in talent attraction and retention is the lifeblood of our law firm. When our competitors gave up on recruiting during the recession, we attracted some of the best experienced and new lawyers in Gunster’s history. Fostering that talent with real work from day one, and promoting a family-friendly culture and commitment to work-life balance is attractive to new hires of all experience levels. Focusing on professional development through our mentorship program, leadership opportunities, women’s leadership forum and emphasis on community engagement also help provide a sense of purpose that many new lawyers seek.
Does your firm employ any nonlawyer professionals in high-level positions (e.g. COO, business development officer, chief strategy officer, etc.)? If so, why is it advantageous to have a nonlawyer in that role? If not, have you considered hiring any?
We have nonlawyer business professionals in key positions such as COO/CFO, chief strategy officer, director of marketing and communications, community relations director, IT director, and HR and recruiting directors. The business savvy they bring to their roles helps Gunster continue to excel in the business of law and allows them to be responsive to the needs of the business without the additional work of serving clients.
What if any technology advancements have you made in your firm in recent years? What are the challenges in implementing tech changes?
For cost and time efficiency, we have embraced e-discovery document-review technology that allows everything from basic Boolean searching to email threading, conceptual analytics, predictive coding and machine learning.
We have also established an online client access portal for corporate documents and created offsite backups for uninterrupted workflow when a hurricane or other outage strikes. We are focused on the future of the practice of law and ensuring that our lawyers and clients have the most sophisticated tools to improve outcomes and better the client experience.
What would you say is the most innovative thing your firm has done recently, whether it be internal operations, how you work with clients, etc.?
Part of the Gunster Advantage is ensuring the best lawyer or team of lawyers works on a matter. Unlike many of our peer firms, Gunster does not compensate its lawyers on an “eat what you kill” formula, which disincentivizes getting the work to the best lawyer to handle the particular matter. Putting client service first, Gunster lawyers work across offices and across disciplines to deliver the best client solution possible. We are focused on winning for our clients, whether in the courtroom or the boardroom. We do that by putting the best talent on the assignment to achieve the client’s goals.