August 16, 2022

Florida Law

Dealing with Change: Law firm leaders discuss challenges and the effects of technology

| 6/28/2018

Grace Dunlap

  Managing shareholder, Bryant Miller Olive, Tampa

Grace Dunlap Grace Dunlap

Dunlap has been managing shareholder for about six years.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of running a law firm today?

A: Maintaining interpersonal relationships between lawyers through face-to-face meetings and discussions. Our hurried existence challenges many aspects of practicing law.

Q: How has the practice of law changed most in the past five to 10 years?

A: There are more and more attorneys and thus more competition for work — there are 12 accredited law schools in Florida alone. Today, we see more clients seeking alternative fee structures. Since Bryant Miller Olive opened nearly 50 years ago, we have primarily used either a monthly retainer structure or a fixed flat fee, which benefits clients and increases attorney happiness and retention. The monthly retainer provides predictable billing for both sides. More importantly, our attorneys can focus on quality and collaboration instead of hitting a certain number of hours. Clients truly have access to the varied expertise of our firm’s partners, and associates have a great opportunity to learn and hone their practice.

Q: How has technology changed your firm’s practice?

A: Technology continues to be both wonderful and the bane of our existence. Clients’ expectations of 24/7 attorney availability have increased. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is helped by technology enabling work outside the office but is hurt by the non-stop slew of communications through various technology platforms.

Q: What was the biggest case your firm handled successfully in the past year?

A: Alan Zimmet, head of our State and Local Government practice group, led the City of Largo, Florida vs. AHF-Bay Fund LLC case that the Florida Supreme Court ruled on March 2, 2017. Our State and Local Government practice group and our Appellate Advocacy practice group subsequently withstood an appeal to the decision in May 2018. In a 6-0 decision, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Largo’s right to accept payments in lieu of taxes from a non-profit organization that owns an affordable housing community in the city. The case was closely watched because of the far-reaching implications. The ability to use tax-exempt bonds and also meet a municipality’s tax obligations can be a key driver in making affordable housing and other types of projects financially feasible. This decision allows a key financing mechanism to remain in place going forward.

Michael Malfitano

  Managing partner, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, Tampa

 Name

Malfitano has been managing partner for 18 years.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of running a law firm?

A: As a national labor and employment boutique law firm, the most challenging aspect today is the need to provide value to clients who face increasing pressure to control the cost of legal representation. I think all firms are looking for new ways to work more efficiently and effectively. It’s also spurred a significant increase in alternative fee arrangements and other competitive pricing models.

Q: How has the practice of law changed most in the past five to 10 years?

A: The most significant change is the recognition that, in order to provide to clients the services that they expect, we have to become strategic partners with each of our clients. This includes learning their business, their culture and their risk tolerance in dealing with issues involving their employees.

Q: Has your firm’s policy on pro bono work changed through the years? If so, how?

A: Our pro bono policy has not changed. We offer individual attorneys the flexibility to provide pro bono work for causes that are important to them, and we certainly encourage them to do so.

Q: How has technology changed your firm’s practice?

A: We have made significant upgrades in technology that have made us much more efficient and able to provide greater value to clients. As a boutique firm, we are often required to go to where our clients are located, and technological improvements have enabled us to work as efficiently when we are traveling as we can when we are in our office.

Q: What was the biggest case your firm handled successfully in the past year?

A: We successfully defended a major client in a federal court disability discrimination suit involving telecommuting, which is increasingly an issue for clients who have employees who are unable to travel to or work in the office because of medical issues. The federal court granted our motion for summary judgment, agreeing that the claim should be denied as a matter of law.

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