April 21, 2014

Biotech

Bonanza

Law firms are banking on enough Scripps-related work to keep them busy for years.

Pat Dunnigan | 7/1/2004
The Scripps Research Institute's plan for a West Palm Beach biomedical research center has economic development boosters and government officials crowing about the potential for dramatic economic spillover. The institute is projected to bring thousands of high-wage jobs, healthcare and biotechnology firm spinoffs and perhaps draw other technology research centers to the area -- along with all of the development needed to support them.

None of this, of course, will happen over handshakes.

It will happen via lawyers -- trainloads of them, from every conceivable practice area. For the well-positioned law firm, the Scripps deal has the potential to be a steady source of income for years to come.

Though it's a little early in the deal for a hiring binge, Florida law firms are already thinking about where the demand for new legal work will fall.

"It is probably premature to think there's any flood or frenzy imminent," says David Perry, managing partner of Holland & Knight's West Palm Beach office. But, he adds, eventually, in a three- to five-year timeline, they will spin off startup and early-stage companies to exploit their research. Then, "corporate and venture capital lawyers will swarm," Perry says. "That's people like me."

Michael Krul, who chairs the corporate finance department at Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell, agrees that any boom in the legal market is still years away. But he says many firms are in the process of developing specific practice areas in anticipation of Scripps-related work.

"I think all the law firms are looking at trying to position themselves right now," he says. "We have just hired two Ph.D.s in biomedicine -- a patent lawyer and a patent agent -- basically in gearing up" for Scripps-related work.

Ernie Cox, a litigation partner at West Palm Beach-based Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, says lawyers who specialize in venture capital, healthcare licensing, regulatory work and intellectual property will be in high demand if the project takes off. "My sense is as the economic cluster evolves, we would be heavily involved in the business side, licensing, putting deals together. We think we're in a good position."

Intellectual property lawyers, who were in short supply during the heyday of the dot coms will likely find themselves in high demand once again.

Krul says land use, real estate and real estate finance lawyers will be among the first to see a wave of new business, followed by work related to new residential and commercial development. Eventually, the technology spinoffs will fuel a demand for lawyers with expertise in corporate securities and venture capital.

But Krul does not foresee a dramatic spate of new hiring. "South Florida has the legal talent, but a lot of this kind of work has not existed in south Florida. We're not a hotbed of venture capitalism."

Krul says many firms geared up during the dot com days and accumulated talented and experienced lawyers in the process. Now, he says, they'll have something to do. "Hopefully, this will get us jump-started again," he says.

Already benefiting
Some firms are already reaping new business from the deal. Ruden McCloskey, which represents Palm Beach County, was bond counsel for the county's $143-million issue for the project.

Orlando-based Broad and Cassel was well-positioned by virtue of a client's relationship with Scripps President Richard Lerner. Firm Chairman C. David Brown was able to facilitate the first meeting between Gov. Jeb Bush and Lerner. The firm now represents the Scripps Florida Funding Corp., the state oversight board for the deal.

Orlando-based Akerman Senterfitt has been hired to help handle the institute's move from La Jolla, Calif.

Gunster Yoakley represents the owner of a huge slice of property sought for the project.

The potential for much more is there, Cox says. "If everybody can work together, we're talking about something as large as the research triangle in North Carolina." But he's keeping things in perspective. "Right now, it's an orange grove and a cattle ranch."

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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