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Miami’s ‘New Breed’ of Law Firms Spurs Fresh Recruiting Battle

July 27, 2022, 9:31 AM

Billionaire Ken Griffin’s move to Miami comes amid a surge of private investment money headed to South Florida. One of the hedge fund mogul’s top law firms already beat Griffin there.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which has handled at least a quarter of the federal litigation docket for Griffin’s Citadel empire in the past five years, recently hit the one-year mark on its own Miami expedition. The firm turned heads by hiring Francis Suarez—Miami’s current mayor—to work in the new office.

As the likes of Citadel, which Griffin announced in June is moving its headquarters to Florida, Apollo Global Management and Andreessen Horowitz descend on Miami, major law firms like Quinn Emanuel are also flocking. That has sparked a recruiting war in a limited pool for legal talent.

“We’re starting to see a flight to quality,” Josh Dull, a Florida legal recruiter, said in an interview. “We have a new breed of firms in Miami, and you always want to play for the Yankees. If you have an opportunity to move up the food chain, a lot of people want to take that.”

Some new entrants, like Kirkland & Ellis and King & Spalding “parachuted” into Miami, moving lawyers from elsewhere to launch the new offices, Dull said. Sidley Austin and Winston & Strawn—firms that have also advised Citadel—are among others who have opted to raid talent from competitors in town.

Newcomers looking to grow have the resources to woo lawyers away from local firms. And to attract lawyers traditionally likely to land in places like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“I don’t think Miami will ever replace Wall Street. That’s ludicrous for anyone to think,” Dull said. “But companies are moving here; talent’s moving here. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Courting Lawyers

Sidley Austin is the latest Big Law firm to officially make a play in Miami. The firm has previously represented Miami newcomers Apollo and Thoma Bravo, in addition to Citadel.

Most of Sidley’s 40-person Miami team was already based in Florida, said firm chair Yvette Ostolaza, who is from the area and graduated from the University of Miami law school. The firm’s stable financial model, bench of well-regarded lawyers, and associate leadership development program set Sidley apart in Miami’s Big Law crowd, she said.

“Right now, we’re getting a ton of resumes,” Ostolaza said in an interview. “And one of the challenges right now is making sure we have time to interview people that are especially interested in our firm. Florida is a very attractive place to live for associates.”

Kirkland—the world’s largest law firm—is looking to pluck new associates from Ostolaza’s alma mater. The firm recently joined the University of Miami’s on-campus recruiting program, according to professor Michele DeStefano. She expects the influx of firms will also attract budding lawyers from other schools.

“Let’s say you graduate from a Top 20 law school. You’re thinking of going to practice in where you are: D.C., Chicago, New York, San Francisco. Miami is not usually on that list,” DeStefano said. “Well, I think in five years, we’re going to be on that list. Maybe 10.”

Welcome to Miami

Suarez, in his role as mayor, has served as a sort of cheerleader for the influx of tech entrepreneurs and investment money to the city.

He first met Griffin at an event in Chicago in which Suarez said he was “evangelizing Miami.”

“I found him someone who deeply cares about his community, cares about the country and cares about the world,” Suarez said of Griffin, in an interview.

A Citadel spokesperson declined to comment on the relationship with Quinn Emanuel. Other firms that have regularly represented Citadel entities in court include Chicago’s Bartlit Beck, Winston & Strawn and Foley Lardner, which has long had offices in Florida.

Suarez is generally required by county ethics rules to avoid taking action as mayor that would “directly or indirectly affect” the firm, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg Law. Several of his predecessors have held jobs while in office, including as lawyers.

Suarez generally advises Quinn Emanuel clients on the local business and legal scene, as well as opportunities, according to Sam Williamson, who co-leads the firm’s Miami office.

It’s not a hard sell.

“I get to go kite surfing on the weekends. I get to play tennis. I get to go to the beach, ride my bike to the office,” Williamson said. “Honestly, you pinch yourself sometimes.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Maia Spoto at mspoto@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com