The Florida Law Network
The Florida Law Network is a group of independent law firms practicing throughout the State of Florida that have combined their knowledge, efforts, and resources for the primary purpose of expanding the scope and improving the quality of legal services each firm provides to its own clients as well as increasing efficiency and lowering the costs of providing those services. The member firms of the Florida Law Network are better able to serve the interests of their clients because of the statewide geographical reach, cumulative expertise in both general and specialized practice areas, and local community knowledge and legal credibility before a specific court or other decision-making body.
The Florida Law Network (Network) has operated so smoothly over the years that its origins are almost obscure. The Network asked me, as the last standing co-founder, to write a history of the Network. There do not seem to be any files held by any member, including me, so I must rely on my memory (and those of other long-standing Network members) back over the past 25 years or so, to fashion a history of the Network. I write this in the first person as so much of the Network’s history has been shared by me personally.
My earliest recollections are that the Network was organized somewhere between 1988 and 1990. I say this because it is the period when Bill McBride and I were either on our Firm Management Committee, or he had become Managing Partner which was in 1990. In any event each of us sparred jokingly as to which had the original idea for the Network. If, in fact he was the Managing Partner, then I defer to his origination
We quickly drove to Melbourne to discuss our ideas with Bill Harrell of Reinman Harrell, largely a PI firm. Bill was a real idea man and of course, his firm joined in as our second member (or co-first). I spoke with Bill by phone and it was his recollection that Bill McBride had just become Managing Partner, so the origin was 1990.
Bill Harrell was a large man by anyone’s measurements, both physically and as a thinker out of the box. We began to put the “meat on the bones” of the Network and just how we would sell it to future law firms. I recall Harrell’s use of the “spoke of the wagon wheel” concept, where Holland and Knight would be the hub and all the other members would be the spokes. We would provide the administrative assistance for the Network, and all out of pocket costs (except in the early days we would do the Annual Meeting cocktail party) would be split among the members in some way relative to size.
We took out a map of the state and the locations where H&K did not have an office and where we thought we should invite the best firm in that area to become a member of the Network.
We all three felt it was important enough for all of us and the executive representatives of future members to “rush” the firms we selected to solicit as members.
We were concerned initially with several legal and ethical issues. First, were there any antitrust or anti-competitive issues? Second, were there ethical or conflicts issues we should be concerned with. We felt that we should be up on these issues and how all members would be affected.
At this time we felt we needed legal advice and guidance beyond our capabilities, so we turned to Bob Feagin, Holland & Knight’s anti-trust partner. After some thought and questioning us, Bob came up with what I will call our Creed for the purposes and operations of the Network that we use today set forth in the “Welcome” page on our website (flalawnet.com). Over the years, we have developed a good working relationship with our member firms and links to them and our map of the state showing all firms and the city or cities where they are located. This also solved a difficult issue we and other members were discussing. We are not an exclusive organization, but a loosely organized group, with the intention of organizing to give our respective clients the greatest service to meet all of their legal needs. This seemed to solve most of the legal issues and we set out to solicit our members.
Our third member firm was Landis Graham French in Deland, a very old and prestigious law firm. I had recent legal work with Bill Sherman, who was the President, so the three of us drove to Deland to meet with Bill and some of his partners. After some rather lengthy discussions (you didn’t have short conversations with Bill) we had our third member firm and were rocking.
Bill passed away a couple of years ago, and the Network lost a founder and a good man and lawyer.
Our next venture, as I recall, was Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt in Ft. Myers. (Harrell’s recollection is Clark Partington). Again, this was an old prestigious firm that, next to the major firms in Florida’s large cities, was the largest of the smaller firms in Florida. We made the call to one of its partners and arranged for a meeting. So McBride, Harrell, Sherman and I took off to Ft. Myers to discuss our venture and proposal. Needless to say, we were all taken aback when we walked into their conference room packed with at least 15 partners present. When the shock wore off, we introduced ourselves and each of us told our story. We fielded questions like an appellant argument and left, much to our chagrin, with a “we will call you back” response. We really were in a state of shock, as we did not expect to leave without a new member.
We discussed our venture among ourselves wondering where we had failed. We met many fine partners, but John Noland and Ernie Hatch stood out and became the executive committee representatives to the Network, our fourth member. Again, we were rocking.
We began to think of geographic diversity, so we again discussed who we collectively knew in West Florida, the Panhandle. Each reviewed Martindale, and all of us came up with the same target, Clark Partington Hart Larry Bond & Stackhouse. So again we called and after a few minutes with the Managing Partner, set a date in Pensacola for a meeting. Because of the distance, we flew and stayed overnight. Our presentation went well, and the partners were not as circumspect as Henderson, and after a good dinner and drinks that night with several of their partners, felt that we had a fifth member, but again, to be confirmed. Bob Hart, who graduated from Washington & Lee four years later and as I recall, Don Partington who had graduated three years later than I, were the representatives to the Network. Bill Clark and Chris Hart also graduated from W&L in the 60’s. At that time, we were in an incubator stage of formality, which came later, as we busied ourselves in gaining membership in diverse locations.
Our next mission, all agreed, was South Central Florida, and to a person, we all agreed that the Crary Buchanan law firm in Stuart was our target. Interestingly, my dad knew well the elder Mr. Crary as well as Jim Franklin, and took me around the state just before I graduated from law school and I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with both. I also knew Rick Crary who was a year behind me in law school, setting the curve for all. When we went to Stuart and met Larry Buchanan, with his enthusiasm, we knew we had picked a winner and our sixth member. Unfortunately, Larry passed away recently after a short retirement.
Although we did not then have an office in West Palm Beach, the Network representatives honored our request from the outset that we intended to open there. We were going full speed ahead. We hadn’t struck out yet, although as we had approached the larger firms, we had received delayed reaction, but they were affirmative.
So, we headed to North Central Florida, above I-4. First among our sights was a smaller firm, McLin Burnsed in Leesburg. My memory fails me and after inquiry with other members our next step may have been Clayton Johnston in Gainesville. In any event, Buddy McLin was from Tallahassee and in my class in law school. He was a fine practical lawyer as was DeweyBurnsed. We had done some bond infrastructure finance for their client, Gary Morse, who has continued to build out the Villages, a large retirement community north of Leesburg and into Sumter County. They assembled themselves and gave us an ok the same day, as I remember. We rushed them the same way as with the other members, with many of our Network representatives. Unfortunately, Buddy and Dewey both passed away within a year of each other just several years ago. However they had brought up good people behind them and Phil Smith has been a leader.
Gainesville was next and we approached them again, with vigor. I had been in law school with Jim Quincy, as well as at Ft. Sill. We met in their large and newly reconstructed offices. We had done an industrial revenue bond issue for the refurbishment of an old Firestone or other facility warehouse, which housed their office. After the meeting, we could stack up another victory for our build-out of the Network.
I believe our next foray was to Lake City and Austin Peele’s firm, Darby Peele. Most everyone knew Austin. He was just behind me in law school. Their decision was soon made and we had engulfed central Florida. To our dismay, Austin passed away rather suddenly on November 20, 2011. Actually, Austin was asked to co-author this history with me.
Since we had now assembled a significant network across the Panhandle, we decided to look to the west coast and the Sarasota area, since H&K had recently closed its Sarasota office and its Bradenton office was either not competitive in Sarasota, or it was to be closed. As I recall, I called Bob Carr of Kirk Pinkerton to set up a meeting. Bob and I graduated from law school together, and drove to Miami together for the bar exam. I have forgotten who was there for each side, but I am sure someone, perhaps John Noland from Henderson Franklin and I were. We again made our pitch and again we were successful.
We all recognized that while H & K covered the Gold Coast, we had no firm in Monroe County. So down we went and met with Cunningham Miller. And now we covered from Key West to Pensacola. The lone missing links were Panama City, Vero Beach and Melbourne, since Bill Harrell’s firm had closed and he had gone to Jacksonville to open his PI firm. We again had lost a primary founder and a big thinker filled with enthusiasm and energy.
We again addressed the East Coast and Vero Beach. There was only one choice in all of our minds. Many of our members knew or had gone to Florida with Cal Brown, who headed the best firm in Vero, so off we went. I recall meeting several of our members at Collins, Brown, where we had a spirited debate with all of Cal’s partners who he had assembled. True to mark, we received a call several days later and we had secured another member firm.
Somewhere during this time our attention turned back to Melbourne (where we had originally officially formed the Network). With Harrell gone, and Reinman not interested, we knew Cliff McClelland, who had been with H&K for a short time, as well as the other partners. After we met, we had re-established a Melbourne network member with McClelland and Jones.
There was a period of time when Clark Partington had ideas of opening an office in Panama City, and they were concluding their plans to open in Destin. But as time went on we all agreed to explore Panama City. I did discover a memorandum from Bill McBride, dated September 1, 1993, wanting to add Panama City. He mentioned that if we did, we would have an office within 50 miles of each County seat in Florida. After some consideration, and dismissing various partners’ personal relations, it was really no choice but to ask Barron, Redding to join us. Again, we were getting rather large, and I am not sure of the team that went to Panama City, but they must have done a good job as we had another essential member.
Although we debated and experimented with meeting contents, schedules, annual meetings and the like, we have settled on what all believe works.
Since many of our so-called charter members are retiring, have left their member firm, or are deceased, we were concerned about the future of the Network. This has led to our efforts to include those of our younger lawyers who have an interest in and who our respective firms believe will carry on the ideals of the Network which many of us have spent so much of our time and efforts in fostering. I cannot conclude this history without mentioning Bill McBride and the huge contribution he made to the Network. Were it not for Bill Harrell and him, we doubtlessly would not be where we are today.
Regrettably, I have mentioned many of our founding members who have passed away very suddenly and within a year or two of the present. There is no loss greater than the death of Bill
McBride on December 22, 2012. This was so sudden and so unexpected, that many of us who were close to him are still in a state of disbelief. Bill was truly larger than life and a tremendous man as well as a leader. He will be sorely missed by all.
As our managing partner stated in a memo to our firm:
“The Holland & Knight family is saddened by the news of Bill McBride’s passing. Bill remained a close and valued friend to many of us at Holland & Knight. He will be forever remembered as the consummate Holland & Knight lawyer.”
Bill provided dynamic leadership and gave his all in everything he did, whether guiding troops in Vietnam or managing Holland & Knight as it became a national law firm.
Like his mentor Chesterfield Smith, Bill’s efforts benefitted the firm, its lawyers, and the legal profession in countless ways. Bill believed strongly that all lawyers have an obligation to help those in need, especially those who cannot afford access to the legal system. His lasting contributions will serve as a legacy for years to come.