Akerman Shakeup


No, dedicated readers, it doesn’t involve the much-discussed Chris Carver.

But with the utterly unreliable aid of commenter akerman fat-trimmer, let’s break down DBR’s excellent front page story on the current spate of turnovers at that venerable Florida institution:

Litigators Larry Silverman, James Sammataro and Scott Cosgrove plan to start their own boutique firm; labor and employment shareholders James Crosland, David Miller and Denise Heekin bolted for Bryant Miller & Olive in Miami; and litigator Sean Santini is joining Boyd Mustelier Smith & Parker in Miami.
shim-2478271The departures “are completely unrelated. It’s a normal course of business when you get to the size that we are,” Robert Zinn, president of the 420-attorney national firm, told the Daily Business Review.

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He dismissed the speculation about more defections as sensationalism.

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One source said the firm has missed its budget projections two years running and trimmed pay for partners at the end of last year.
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A source familiar with the firm’s finances said Akerman missed its budget projection by 12 percent last year and partners were forced to absorb holdbacks tied to insufficient revenue. A shareholder said the budget shortfall was in the 2 percent to 3 percent range.
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One source said some associates were taking home more than some partners on a weekly basis due to holdbacks and capital contributions.
shim-2478271Zinn denied the budget shortfall claim.

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“That’s completely untrue. In fact, this year on average the shareholders in the firm all in the aggregate made 6 percent more than the previous year,” he said.

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He speculated the 12 percent figure came from three years ago — but the firm made 12 percent more than its projected budget that year.

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Many shareholders are upset over Akerman’s compensation structure and a recent flat-percentage capital contribution system tied to the firm’s annual budget projections. shim-2478271 Sources said Akerman’s compensations structure, which places a premium on originating business, has caused a cannibalistic environment that keeps attorneys from working together. A department head who brings in new clients would not get extra money if the work went to others in the firm, a source said.
shim-2478271Not every lawyer contacted by the Review painted a gloomy picture of Akerman. In fact, the departing Silverman was bullish about the firm.

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Contacted Thursday at his Akerman office, Silverman said he decided to form the boutique because Akerman had gotten so big it was conflicting out of cases he wanted to handle.

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“Obviously, the fact that they are very healthy is not something they can or should apologize for,” he said.

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Other attorneys indicated the firm expanded faster in some markets than it should have, citing haphazard growth to gain a bigger geographic footprint.
shim-2478271The latest defections come just after two other high profile shareholders left Akerman’s Miami office. Brian Garcia, former head of the immigration practice, joined Holland & Knight’s Miami office last month as a partner. And labor and employment shareholder Marlene Quintana, also president of the Cuban American Bar Association, left Akerman late last year to join Gray Robinson.

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Garcia left Akerman after more than nine years to join Holland’s international and cross borders transactions group, where he hopes to build an immigration group.

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Garcia told the Review earlier this week that he didn’t have an opportunity to build a practice at Akerman, and that he felt he did at Holland & Knight — a notion that Zinn rejected.

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Last year, Akerman suffered several other key defections, including the former chair of its corporate securities practice, Kara L. MacCullough. She left last January for Holland & Knight along with corporate shareholders Laurie Green and Esther L. Moreno.

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The firm has also suffered departures in its new out of state offices.

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Three Washington, D.C., heavyweights walked away from Akerman last May to join Fulbright & Jaworski, leaving Akerman without a white-collar practice in the nation’s capital.

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Duane Morris announced Tuesday that three former Akerman lawyers — Marvin Pickholz, 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.

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Zinn noted that Akerman recently added 21 attorneys to its New York office through various acquisitions.

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Turnover was described as a two-way street.

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One shareholder said departures are never a good thing, but they are standard in the business, the firm’s business is strong, and he is busier than ever.

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In contrast, another source said Akerman resumes were flying around Miami.

According to akerman fat-trimmer, problems reported in the article exist but may be overstated. As reported, there are possible concerns over budget issues, overhead issues, underperforming partner issues, and associate disastisfaction issues. Some feathercappers at that firm may not be pulling their weight. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the calls and emails seeking to place some Akerman junior partners and associates.Can a firm facing these issues survive and prosper? Of course. Some of these departures to my mind do seem overstated — squarejawed Sean Santini doesn’t stay with any one firm very long, anyway, so why should he be viewed as a lifer at Akerman? His move is probably unrelated.Larry Silverman’s group is a little more complicated. It’s hard to spin that as not a problem, it’s definitely a loss in my mind.In any event, good luck to his new boutique — I think it will be wildly successful.I found this part of today’s story intriguing:

Shareholder morale has suffered as paychecks have shrunk under pressure from sizable mandatory 401(k) contributions, holdbacks due to the budget shortfalls and increases in capital contributions, according to a source.
shim-2478271Some shareholders were particularly upset with the firm’s top leads after they gave themselves large bonuses when the firm missed budget for the second year and while other shareholders were making less money, one source said.

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The firm’s expansion was also blamed by several sources for the firm’s budget shortfall and diminishing shareholder compensation.

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The growth has also caused Akerman to lose sizable referral business from out of state firms that don’t have a presence in Florida.

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After Akerman gave up its Florida-only strategy some firms stopped sending it business because they viewed it as a competitor, said a source, who added the referrals accounted for a lot of work.

I would figure that firm elders thought through the possibility of lost referral business when they decided to expand nationally. And increased holdbacks recently are not unique to Akerman. Question — if the report is true about lost referrals, who stands to gain locally? Mark Raymond — don’t answer that.

I’m sure we have not heard the end to this story. Good luck to all involved, and please note that resumes can be submitted to my email address.