Akerman Senterfitt


Tom Cardwell
Chief operating shareholder: Robert Zinn
Turnover: $210m (£121.1m) (estimated 2005 year-end)
Total number of shareholders: 238
Total number of fee-earners: 440
Main practice areas: Corporate, litigation and real estate
Key clients: Bank of America, GEO Group, Huizenga Holdings, Iberia, Miami Dolphins and SunTrust Bank
Number of offices: Nine
Locations: Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, New York, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa, Washington DC and West Palm Beach

A big fish in the Florida pond for some time now, Akerman Senterfitt has set its sights on rapid expansion in a select few areas outside the Sunshine State.

The firm is structured as a corporation rather than a partnership and, as such, refers to its senior staff as shareholders. Chairman Tom Cardwell explains: “In Florida the limited-liability partnership [LLP] laws were late to the game. Structurally, if I could switch to an LLP, I’d do it tomorrow, but there would be certain tax issues that would be raised.”

Akerman’s first move out of Florida came in March 2004 with the acquisition of a small Washington DC firm. That office is now home to 14 attorneys.

The New York office opened in late November with six attorneys, and most recently the firm hired six attorneys, including five from its Florida rival Greenberg Traurig, to launch a global practice group focusing on Latin America. “Because of our Florida location, there’s an obvious Latin America connection. We have connections linguistically and culturally to Spain and Latin America,” says Cardwell.

For now, Akerman will target its international work on US inbound investment from its Florida base. Countries targeted include Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela. “Some firms have tried to open in Latin America and have found it very difficult and they’ve not been successful at all,” says Cardwell. “We never want to be the beta tester on these things.”

The firm has no plans to transform itself from a Florida-based firm into an international, or even a national, one.

Cardwell says: “We like to think we’re number one in the market here, and that’s not something we’ll give up lightly. Our current order of events is to develop the New York and Washington offices.”

The firm expects to grow the offices rapidly to reach 100 attorneys in New York and 70 in DC within two years.

Corporate is the firm’s strongest suit, with a big focus on M&A and IPOs. “We have the largest corporate practice south of Philadelphia,” boasts Cardwell.

Being a Florida-based firm, real estate and development work are important practice areas, while litigation brings in around 45 per cent of the firm’s revenues.

The firm also has a specialised practice dealing with sporting venues, but Cardwell is keen to point out to UK readers that “we don’t work for the Glazers [the new owners of Manchester United]”.

The expansion has translated into increased revenue, with turnover leaping from $180m (£103.8m) at the end of 2004 to an expected $220m (£126.9m) for 2005.

Cardwell says Akerman “does not particularly wish to follow” the model of its Florida competitors Greenberg and Holland & Knight. “We’ve been successful starting small with core groups and building up with laterals, and we’ll continue with that philosophy,” he says.