Business Monday

Eye to the future: Shutts & Bowen’s history mirrors Miami’s

Bowman Brown, left, and Frank Rodriguez, the two lead partners at Shutts & Bowen, Miami’s oldest law firm, in their new sleek new offices earlier this month. .
Bowman Brown, left, and Frank Rodriguez, the two lead partners at Shutts & Bowen, Miami’s oldest law firm, in their new sleek new offices earlier this month. . ctrainor@miamiherald.com

In its 106-year history, Miami’s oldest law firm has survived hurricanes, real estate booms and busts, and the two economic “Greats” — Depression and Recession. Now it is settling into new digs, adding new practice lines and refreshing its image.

Founded in 1910, Shutts & Bowen recently has added practice groups in hospitality, intellectual property, healthcare and Cuba. The firm boasts 261 lawyers statewide, with 105 in Miami. Its eighth Florida office, in Jacksonville, is under consideration with a full-service practice to cover real estate, financial and high-end commercial litigation services, said Bowman Brown, partner and executive committee chairman.

Other offices are in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Sarasota, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

Increased real estate development, international financing and dispute resolution, healthcare, tourism and high-tech biotech research have created a more sophisticated South Florida legal business in the last five years, Brown said.

“Domestic hedge funds and private equity funds have relocated to South Florida to escape high taxes in other states,” also opening new legal opportunities, Brown said. The firm continues to serve clients through its existing, wide-ranging practice including real estate, securities fraud, trusts and estates and equine law.

In January, Shutts launched its new hospitality practice, crafting alternate- and fixed-fee arrangements that vary according to a client’s size.

The practice handles code enforcement, zoning applications, employee lawsuits, vendor contracts, immigration and visa applications, and issues for restaurants and hotels — work traditionally done by overworked general or financial operations management. Among them are 15 restaurant clients that need 24/7 legal advice with issues including overcrowding and liquor licensing.

“I’m almost afraid to market it, it’s growing so fast,” partner Daniel Benavides said. “We help with immigration-related questions as part of the program. We also do visa applications.”

Current hospitality clients are based in Miami, but the firm plans to take it statewide, partner Alexander Tachmes said.

Last year, Law360 cited Shutts as the nation’s top in hiring Hispanics; 13.4 percent of equity partners are Hispanic.

Miami ranks “in the top 20 to 25 cities for high-net-worth individuals and international investors,” said Frank Rodriguez, Latin America practice group leader. That wealth benefits the firm’s financial services, real estate, litigation and tax-planning specialties, for example.

“Clients in each of those practices are either domestic businesses which benefit from capital inflows or are the very domestic or foreign individuals and families which are investing in the United States and especially South Florida,” Rodriguez said.

A three-level spiral staircase and two-story lobby anchor the firm’s new Jetson-esque 69,200-square-foot offices. Six months ago, Shutts moved from traditional quarters in the Miami Center, the firm’s headquarters since 1983, into its new space across Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami’s Southeast Financial Center.

Shutts boasts a storied history that mirrors South Florida’s, dating back to railroad baron Henry Flagler.

Firm founder Frank Shutts was an Indiana lawyer who moved to Miami in 1909 to act as a receiver for the Old Fort Dallas Bank.

Shutts borrowed money from Flagler in 1910 to publish the Miami Herald and ran the paper for the next 27 years.

The firm became Shutts & Bowen, after name partner Crate Bowen, in 1919 after another partner was elected mayor.

Shutts, a governor-appointed lieutenant colonel in the 1920s, was a key figure in acquiring Miami’s Bayfront Park property, luring Seaboard Air Line Railway, building the Tamiami Trail and South Dixie Highway, and bringing investor Carl Fisher to Miami Beach.

In 2015, the AmLaw 200 survey reported the firm posted $147 million in gross revenues, up from $57.4 million in 2014 with $62.5 million in net income, up from $57.4 million. Per-partner profits were $740,000, up from $700,000, according to AmLaw.

Typically, top lawyers can become partners in their early 40s. Last year, Shutts added 39 new attorneys. It’s moving younger members into equity positions and allowing senior equity partners to become contractors.

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