Miami is Big Law’s latest go-to destination as the city looks to reshape itself and firms follow clients making their way south.
Kirkland & Ellis, the world’s largest law firm, and Winston & Strawn on Thursday announced the opening of new respective offices in Miami. They are the latest in a wave of Big Law firms expected to continue moving into the Magic City, which has seen an influx of private equity and tech businesses in recent years.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan opened its Miami location in May 2021, hiring Mayor Francis Suarez in a counsel position. King & Spalding launched its office in January and Sidley Austin has recently hired several partners in the city, though the firm hasn’t officially opened an office yet.
“This is unprecedented to have this amount of talent and capital from the client side descend on one place,” said John O’Sullivan, co-managing partner of Quinn’s Miami office.
Miami was historically a mid-market town, without a huge corporate private equity presence like New York or Washington, said Meredith Frank, a Miami-based recruiter for Major Lindsey & Africa. That’s starting to change as businesses move to the Sunshine State and the pandemic allowed lawyers to work outside of the cities in which they are based.
Private equity giant Apollo Global Management turned heads last year when it said it would open a South Florida outpost as part of an effort to attract and retain talent. The company temporarily set up shop in downtown Miami space leased from Greenberg Traurig, one of the largest Florida-founded firms.
“It’s an evolution that we’ve really never seen before and it does feel like a boom,” Frank said. “It does feel sort of like a race to the moon.”
Shopping for Lawyers
Some firms, like Quinn and Winston, are poaching local talent to open the new outposts. Others, like Kirkland and King & Spalding, are starting by moving lawyers from other locations to the Sunshine State.
“I don’t think it’s the easiest thing in the world to be everything [clients] want, sitting here in Miami ready for them, but I think a lot of people have decided it’s worth it and they’re just kind of figuring out how to do it,” O’Sullivan said.
Quinn is known for its litigation prowess. One of the main drivers in its decision to open in Miami is the fast local court system, prized by clients who are trying to do business quickly, O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan, a former Hogan Lovells litigation partner, was one of 10 lawyers that made the move to Quinn to launch its Miami office in May 2021.
The group also includes Suarez, who holds down his job as the city’s mayor while also working for the firm. He has made attracting tech companies and promoting digital assets a key part of his mayoral platform.
South Florida has always seen a significant amount of personal wealth, but now there are a lot of institutional sources of capital moving to Miami, said Jaret Davis, co-managing partner of Greenberg Traurig’s Miami office. Private equity’s Thoma Bravo recently joined Apollo in launching operations in the city.
Davis, who has led the Miami-founded firm’s home office for over a decade, has been a mainstay in Miami’s tech scene, representing cybersecurity company Appgate, Inc., IT infrastructure provider Terremark Worldwide, Inc. and growth capital investment firm Medina Capital in a wide array of deals.
“What I have heard, and the reason why I think Miami is on the right vector to become somewhat of a Silicon Valley, is the energy,” Davis said. “By far the quote I hear the most from from technology executives and VCs and all usual segments of an ecosystem is that the energy of South Florida right now reminds them of the energy that was in Silicon Valley 20 years ago,” he said.
The city’s legal talent pool is still small compared to New York, Washington and Chicago, according to Frank, the recruiter. The decision by some firms to parachute in several strong partners from other geographies to launch a Miami office could be a net positive for the city, she said.
“I think that is going to continue to give them market fuel to grow,” Frank said.