South Floridians active in civic life may best know Marlon Hill for his community activities. As a past president of the Caribbean Bar Association, current board member of The Miami Foundation, Miami Parking Authority and Miami Book Fair, and an active member of the The Orange Bowl Committee, it’s mind-boggling that he still has time to practice law.
Like Hill, law partner Michelle Delancy is engaged in multiple professional associations and has also been lauded for legal and community leadership. But it’s their combined legal expertise in commercial litigation, intellectual property, government affairs, business immigration and general corporate transactions that led Miami-based Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel to draw delancyhill into the fold.
As of Jan. 5, the firm of delancyhill is no more. Already one of the state’s largest minority-owned firms, Hamilton Miller now boasts 41 lawyers, with Delancy and Hill among its partners. Along with Miami and Tampa, the firm has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Norfolk, Atlanta and throughout the Caribbean.
“We decided [in 2014] that we wanted to shake things up,” explains Hill. “It’s not unusual for firms to merge and consolidate.” But the opportunity to join with a large firm run by partners of color was rare: “In a city that’s increasingly diverse, more corporations are looking to see that the law firms they are are reflective of the market they serve.”
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Delancy and Hill’s Caribbean connections are a boon.
“We’ve found that many firms that expand overseas expand to Latin America,” said Laura Corvo, Hamilton Miller’s director of client relations. “What is unique for us is our presence in the Caribbean, a market that’s frequently overlooked.”
Business Monday interviewed Hill and Delancy about the move via email.
Q: Why have you and your law partner, Michelle Delancy, decided to join forces with Hamilton Miller & Birthisel?
A. Together as one law firm, under the brand of HM&B, we will combine our practice strengths and resources to expand the depth of services to our current and future clients. Additional strategic advantages include:
▪ Expanded scope of legal services to local and international clients in the Caribbean
▪ Expanded talent pool
▪ Additional entrepreneurial and leadership expertise
HM&B will continue to offer legal counsel in a wide range of practice areas, especially in the areas of insurance defense and coverage, premises liability, medical and professional liability, labor and employment, admiralty and maritime and complex business litigation. With our addition, HM&B will expand its provision of services in corporate transactions, administrative/government law, intellectual property, and commercial litigation.
Q: Tell us about your career track and specialty. How that has prepared you for your new professional adventure?
A. Upon completing our law school tenures, we both had a mixture of professional experiences in Miami. Prior to partnering with each other, we enjoyed the benefit of working with both small to mid-size firms and public institutions, like FIU and the U.S. Immigration Court. However, starting and building our firm practice and reputation from a concept to full operation gave us a priceless experience in business and life.
Q: What were your most memorable cases to date?
A. Michelle: My definite highlight involved the acquittal of a local Miami-Dade Public Schools principal accused of official misconduct for allegedly failing to report an on-campus sex crime in an effort to protect a star running back of the school. The matter involved constitutional due-process issues and this administrator faced 10 years in state prison, if convicted. I tried the case when I was eight months pregnant.
Marlon: My most memorable case matter is the opportunity to counsel and guide the legal and business affairs for a renowned international recording artist from the Caribbean, including a number of cross border transactions, intellectual property, and immigration matters.
Q: How many partners are in the new firm, and how many total lawyers are in the firm?
A. With our alliance with the Firm today, HM&B will increase to 19 partners and a total of 41 attorneys with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, New York, Norfolk, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. HM&B is ranked as one of the most diverse law firms in South Florida with one-half of the Firm’s partners being minorities and one-third of the partners being women.
Q: There’s a lot of talk about Miami as a Latin American city, but relatively little about its role in the Caribbean, where you, Marlon, were born. As a past president of the Caribbean Bar Association, why do you think that is? How is the opportunity there changing?
A. With a growing immigrant population from the Caribbean in Florida, increased direct investment and travel to the Caribbean, and 25 percent of Florida’s top trading partners being Caribbean nations, we have meaningful business interests and connections to the Caribbean Basin region. As the Summit of the Americas in Panama approaches in April 2015, our hemisphere will be taking a closer look at our international relationships, including those changing winds in Cuba, Haiti and in the Caribbean.
Q: Your firm has been very involved in the Miami community, serving with organizations such as the Miami Foundation and the Orange Bowl Committee, among many others. Will that continue?
A. In addition to providing quality legal services to our current and future clients at HM&B, we intend to continue our longstanding commitment to corporate citizenship and philanthropic leadership. We believe that lawyers cannot effectively serve their clients without connecting intimately with the community — the very source of our livelihood.
Q: In today’s complex economy, is a boutique law firm like delancyhill a viable option for young lawyers?
A. Boutique law firms like delancyhill provide young lawyers with an excellent opportunity to learn the nuances of the law while affording them the opportunity to apply the law by attending court and engaging clients. For the young lawyer, learning is more important than earning top pay. The smaller or boutique firm affords the young lawyer amazing opportunities to learn, thereby significantly increasing their long-term earning potential.
Q: You and Michelle are accustomed to making decisions on your own, but also carrying the full burden of running a firm. What do you anticipate as the bonuses and the challenges of becoming part of a larger firm?
A. The immediate bonuses of joining our new team at HM&B include being a member of a talented cadre of lawyers and having access to a more robust administrative support staff. We can now focus more readily on the practice of law and the development of the practice versus the every day running of a business. One challenge in the short term may be the acclimation to a larger organizational culture. It will nevertheless be an exciting transition for us.
Q: Here in South Florida, what impact does race have on a firm’s success? Is race important?
A. Good lawyers know that life experiences influence perceptions and that others have had different experiences. We want the benefit of those experiences in our practice. We also know that diversity in our legal team gives us a real advantage in communicating with diverse jurors, opposing counsel, or clients — one of the keys to achieving results for our clients. For us, race is truly an inspiring asset, not an inhibiting factor to our practice and our success. Competency and diversity are not mutually exclusive in our profession. Having both is good for our clients, as well as the broader community.
Q: Just a few years ago, Miami was viewed locally and nationally as a place with limited opportunity for black professionals. How is that changing, and why?
A. That old view is changing, as Miami’s black professional community is growing. There is a significant pool of black professional talent from diverse backgrounds here in South Florida. For example, with the election of Commissioner Jean Monestime as Chair of the Miami Dade County Commission, the onset of numerous projects in the urban core or the creation of the Multicultural Division at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, there are indications that opportunities are abound.
Q: Why did you become lawyers?
A. We are both first-generation lawyers in our families. Learning and utilizing the skills that serve to protect the financial and legal interests of our clients is a tremendous professional reward.
Q: You’ve both won many awards. Which of those has been most meaningful to you?
A. Our firm’s receipt of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Top 100 Minority Business Awards, Small Company of the Year for Corporate Citizenship. It reaffirmed our commitment to the growth and quality of life of the Miami community. Giving back to our community is of utmost importance to us.
Q: Your firm has had many good clients. What are the key factors in your success?
A. The key factors to our success in obtaining quality clients have been our personalized client service, effective results, and flexible fee arrangements.
Q: What advice do you give young lawyers starting out in South Florida?
A. The best advice for young lawyers starting in South Florida is to be mindful of your personal and professional reputation. Find a mentor or two in your preferred practice area, and get involved with a charitable interest or organization where you may offer your time and legal skills.
Q: What advice do you give black professionals about South Florida?
A. To succeed as a black professional in South Florida, you must be culturally inquisitive and fearless in sharing your professional talents in different work environments. Most importantly, we encourage black professionals not to wait for opportunities to knock, but to create them through collaboration or partnerships.
More online: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/
▪ MARLON A. HILL
Job title: Partner, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel.
Education: Bachelor of science degree in international business/finance, and minor in Spanish, from Florida State University; law degree also from FSU.
Hobbies: Playing pick up soccer; attending art/culture events.
Family: Married 17 years to Carla Hill.
▪ MICHELLE A. DELANCY
Job title: Partner, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel.
Education: Bachelor of science degree in foreign service from Georgetown University; law degree from University of Miami.
Hobbies: Playing the piano; scrapbooking.
Family: Married 21 years to Adrian Delancy, Esq. Six kids: Jalyn (21); Lauren (12); Kristen (10); Adrian, Jr. (9); Aidan (6); Jordin (4).
A Lunch Hour Twitter Chat will be held on Thursday at 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.to discuss business and industry trends for 2015. @HMBLegal #BusinessMonday #HMBLaw