As Miami’s fortunes are rising, the legal profession is undergoing sweeping change.
“Coming out of the recession, the business of law has changed,” Sumberg says. “It has changed in fundamental ways. There’s much more emphasis on bringing value to the client and being efficient. This is something that law firms have struggled with. Those firms that get this and listen to their clients are going to win.”
“I’ve been doing this 39 years, and I have never in 39 years seen the kind of change in our industry that I see today, which is caused by the industry and lawyers needing to taking a different approach,” he says. “Clients are so sensitive about their legal expenditures that they don’t feel they need to do the work in New York. We’re getting the opportunity to do the kind of things that were only done in New York before.”
Like Greenberg Traurig, Bilzin Sumberg is a homegrown Miami firm. But unlike Greenberg, Bilzin uses Miami as a base and sees no need to expand to other locations. The 112-lawyer firm expects to hire more lawyers this year, though, because the workload keeps increasing. Recent successes include the $1 billion Miami Beach Convention Center with its 52-acre mixed used development, which Bilzin secured for its client, SBACE (though the deal is now under pressure from a citizenry anxious to cut back); a $350 million deal to replace Miami’s Metrorail cars for client AnsaldoBreda; and a $251 million loan for Craig Robins’ luxury development in the Design District. Bilzin also represents Genting, which bought the Miami Herald waterfront property with hopes of developing an elaborate casino resort.
For now, Bilzin has the best of both worlds — an increased workload that grew revenues by nearly a fifth more than last year — and a buyer’s market when it comes to hiring fresh legal talent.
“We are finding it easier to get high quality new grads than before because demand in the industry has decreased and many law firms have stopped hiring right out of law school,” Sumberg says. “We are getting the strongest group of new attorneys out of school post-recession.”
The deans at two of Florida’s most prestigious law schools — the University of Miami and the University of Florida — acknowledge this is not the best time to enter the profession.
“Law schools should not be increasing in size,” says UF’s Dean Jerry. “This is not a world that needs more lawyers right now.”
According to Wendy Margolis of the Law School Admissions Council, prospective students are heeding that warning. Law school applications have been steadily decreasing over the past four years. In 2010, she says, 87,900 people applied to law school, compared to only 59,426 this year. That’s a drop of 32 percent. The decline is even more dramatic when viewed in light of 2004, when a high of 100,600 people applied. Just a decade later, in 2013, the applications plummeted by 41 percent.
Oddly enough, UF saw a slight uptick in enrollment this year over last, from 284 to 315 first-year students. The University of Miami, however, significantly slashed enrollment for its incoming class. According to Dean Patricia D. White, UM enrolled roughly a third less first-year students than it did last year. New students fell from 463 in 2012 to 310 in the fall incoming class.