When you think of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, what comes to mind? Endless sunshine. Sandy beaches. Posh nightclubs. Paradise vacations. Those are all attractive features and motivation for visiting, but South Florida is also a place where the local legal market is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and mature.
As a result, lawyers are migrating to the South not only to reap some of the obvious benefits and attractions of the region—lack of state income and capital gains taxes, beautiful weather, and diverse culture—but also to take their legal careers and practices to the next level.
In fact, Major, Lindsey & Africa has seen a 59% increase in South Florida placements since 2018.
Miami as a Growing Business and Legal Hub
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Miami ranked fourth among 500 U.S. cities analyzed in a 2019 financial advisory study for growth. Indeed, the region has become a hotspot for tech companies, private equity firms, and venture capitalists—starting with early movers like VC firm Founders Fund and major financial services companies such as Softbank, Goldman Sachs, Citadel, and Blackstone.
Other big companies including Microsoft, Apple and ParamountGlobal have set up operations here, creating new East Coast opportunities for lawyers aspiring to join these attractive companies. There are also myriad PE and VC-backed companies launching new operations in the area. As these organizations settle in, they are quickly assessing their need for local legal talent, support, and even leaders.
Of course, this growth is not limited to new companies. As the gateway to Latin America, Miami has long been home to law firms with strong practices tied to supporting Latin American clients and companies with connections to those countries.
These and other well-established companies with a long history in South Florida are enjoying increased workloads and reaping the benefits of the booming economy. As such, they are expanding their internal legal teams and hiring general counsel (whether to replace a retiring GC or as the first for their organization). As a result, a major opportunity has emerged in this market for smart and sophisticated attorneys to join these organizations—in various types of roles—at a pivotal moment in their growth.
Growing Presence of National Firms
On the other side of the legal industry, national law firms are also being lured south in an effort to stay close and expand the services they offer to their top clients. The fact that many influential law firm partners have contemplated a change of scenery in recent years is intensifying, and in some cases expediting, their firm’s motivation to execute on strategic growth plans here.
In 2021, Quinn Emanuel made headlines by opening a Miami office via a combination of local lateral hires and current partners relocating from other offices. King & Spalding recently made big waves when it announced plans to relocate 37 current lawyers to open its Miami office.
These firms are only some of the trailblazers in a sweeping movement of law-firm expansion to this region. Numerous law firms of varying sizes are planting a flag in South Florida—and, in turn, they are heavily recruiting trained associates, senior associates, and partners from all over the country, and from cities including Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Growing Regional Economy
All of this market expansion has created a ripple effect on the region’s economy: With the influx of businesses and firms to the area, Miami has seen a hot real estate market only get hotter—which means opportunities for real-estate lawyers are abundant.
Hospitality also continues to be a mainstay for the area and is rebounding as Covid-19 restrictions continue to decrease. Finally, the arrival of tech and private equity businesses amplifies the need for legal expertise in M&A, capital raising, intellectual property, banking and finance, cross-border transactions, private wealth and more.
For the entrepreneurial lawyer, the door is wide open to get in on the ground floor of this increasingly robust and trending market growth. In 2021, according to Leopard’s List, 117 lawyers from law firms migrated to Florida via lateral firm moves and 60 moved to the Florida office of their existing firms. According to this 2021 report from the ABA, the number of lawyers in Florida has increased 19.3% over the past 10 years.
To practice in Florida, law firm attorneys must sit for the Florida bar, as there is no reciprocity with other states. However, law firms looking to relocate lawyers to the state are very often supportive of their attorneys through the process, allowing them the necessary time off to study and sit for the exam.
For the attorneys for whom this type of career opportunity would be a fit, the effort could be a very worthwhile endeavor, especially while you can still be one of the early movers to Florida.
On the other hand, the Florida Bar enables any in-house counsel to practice in Florida as long as they are licensed to practice law in a U.S. jurisdiction; the Florida Bar extends this same privilege to foreign qualified attorneys. In effect, there is an easy transition for an attorney seeking to join a Florida in-house legal team.
To be clear, however, the Florida market is much smaller and its talent pool more limited than some of the more robust legal markets around the country like New York City or D.C. Thus, early-movers will have an edge when it comes to capturing top talent, positioning their organizations for success, and cementing their place at the forefront of an evolutionary moment for the legal industry.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Sheri Michaels is a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s New York and Basking Ridge, N.J., offices.