February 25, 2024


One for the History Books

Along with the Steel Hector acquisition goes a bit of Florida history.

Cynthia Barnett | 11/1/2005
Former Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte remembers poking through the remarkable files of Steel Hector & Davis in Miami when he was a young lawyer there in the 1960s. "The file room really intrigued me," says D'Alemberte. "You'd be looking for something and suddenly you'd come across documents from the East Coast Railroad or the Model Land Co. By going through those files, you could literally see the history of south Florida's development."

Steel Hector & Davis was considered by many to be Florida's best law firm. In September, the famous name was relegated to the history books when the firm merged into Cleveland-based Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Like many former partners at Steel Hector, D'Alemberte took the news with "a great deal of sadness."

MEMORIES: "The sad thing is that people will not have much memory for all this history," says Steel Hector alum Sandy D'Alemberte.Of course, the 80-year-old law firm went through 10 other incarnations before it became Steel Hector & Davis. Founded in Miami in 1925, the firm was the creation of three former state lawmakers. J.P. Stokes was a Pensacola lawyer recruited to Miami by Henry Flagler to do legal work for the Florida East Coast Railroad. He joined up with James G. Caulkins of Jacksonville and Scott Loftin of Pensacola to form Loftin Stokes & Caulkins. When Stokes died, Robert Anderson came from Pensacola to take his place as counsel to the railroad. The firm became Loftin Caulkins & Anderson.

Over the years, the firm drew Florida's best legal minds. When D'Alemberte joined, it was called Scott McCarthy Preston & Steel. "It was a remarkable group of people," D'Alemberte says. "Bill Steel was one of the greatest lawyers I've ever known, and three of the lawyers we worked with then went on to become federal judges."

Other noteworthy alums: U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Joseph P. Klock Jr., the former managing partner who twice won before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. The combined Squire Sanders -- some 800 lawyers with 31 offices around the world -- will carry on the Steel Hector legacy in Florida and become a potent force internationally, the firm's leaders say. Steel Hector gives Squire Sanders a stronger presence in Latin America. Squire Sanders gives Steel Hector a presence in Europe and Asia.

But from a historical perspective, "I would have to say that it would be awfully hard for any firm to retain its stature given the heights that Steel Hector had achieved," says D'Alemberte. "The sad thing is that people will not have much memory for all this history -- and these people very much deserve to be remembered."

Turnaround Story
In early 2001, the American Bar Association threatened to strip the University of Florida's law school of accreditation. The reason: Poor facilities. The law library in particular, said the ABA, was far too small for 1,300 students. It needed an additional 22,000 square feet to meet minimum standards.

This fall, UF's Frederic G. Levin College of Law unveiled the largest law library in the Southeast. The Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center just may be the quickest job of fundraising and project construction in the history of Florida's universities. How'd the school pull it off?

The story starts with former interim UF President Chuck Young and former interim law dean Jon Mills, also a former Speaker of the Florida House. First, Mills persuaded Young to move a $10-million appropriation for new law school classrooms up five years -- not a popular move among UF deans who were next in line for new facilities. Mills then turned to powerful law school alums, including Fred Levin of Pensacola, W.C. Gentry of Jacksonville, Glen Sturm of Atlanta and David Band of Sarasota. If they could raise half the money for a new law library in a year, by Jan. 2, 2002, the state's matching grant program would kick in, and construction could start in 2002.

Young and Mills flew to Chicago on a Saturday morning to convince the ABA's accreditation committee that the facilities would be upgraded by 2005. Levin took the lead on gifts. The three financing wizards, Gentry, Sturm and Band, went to work with charities and other donors and raised an initial $6.3 million in three- to five-year pledges. Then they approached Northern Trust Bank, which agreed to a deal to put up the pledged monies in advance. By the end of 2001, they'd raised enough to put the matching grant into motion.

The $25-million expansion, which also includes 18 high-tech classrooms, was finished in time for fall classes this year. On a warm day in September, some 500 dark-suited alumni stood to applaud U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner as she braved a sun shower to give the dedication speech. The new 100,000-sq.-ft. library will hold more than 600,000 volumes; its amenities run the gamut from 300 wireless study carrels to a room for nursing moms.

School and Shelter
Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 2,000 law students from New Orleans' Tulane and Loyola universities, but most were back in class within weeks of the storm, thanks to the efforts of top law schools around the country.

Thirty-eight of the displaced students have landed in Gainesville at the Levin College of Law, where some are living with professors.

Eight are in Tallahassee, where FSU's Black Law Students Association is working on a book drive to get texts to evacuee law students around the country. To help, check out katrinabooks.blogspot.com.Associate Editor Cynthia Barnett takes over the Of Counsel feature from Pat Dunnigan, who has moved to Chicago. Cynthia Barnett can be reached at 727/422-7625 or cynthia_barnett@yahoo.com.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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