Real Estate Boom Good News for Law Firms

Cash is flowing, banks are cracking open their vaults, cranes are popping up and lawsuits are flooding the courthouse.

South Florida law firm managing partners paint a bright picture of their firms, and it’s almost all attributable to the renewed real estate boom, which trickles into other practices like litigation, banking and finance, international transactions and public-private partnerships.

“One only needs to look at the skyline in Fort Lauderdale or Miami and see the cranes active once again and projects coming out of the ground to know that real estate has been trending very positively,” said Gary Rosen, managing partner of Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff. “With that comes work for real estate lawyers.”

Legal recruiters complain they can’t find enough real estate lawyers to meet demand.

Greenberg Traurig represents a host of developers building condominiums, hotels, mixed-use and transportation projects, said firm co-chairman Matt Gorson. A growing trend includes developers partnering with hotels to create luxury-branded condominiums, offering four- and five-star amenities with a resort component.

Branded projects include the Ritz-Carlton Residences, which has two projects in the works in South Florida; the Faena District, which includes the Faena House, a renovated version of the Saxony Hotel; Four Seasons, which has a new project at the historic Surf Club property in Surfside; and SLS Hotels, which has partnered with the Related Group on SLS and Hyde branded projects in the Brickell area, Midtown Miami and Hollywood.

Greenberg’s Miami lawyers also represent developers on sprawling mixed-use projects reshaping the Brickell and downtown areas, including Brickell City Centre, Miami Worldcenter and All Aboard Florida’s Miami Central.

“You’re seeing far more complicated and interrelated projects, where people will work, live and play—and use public transportation, which requires greater sophistication in the provision of legal services,” Gorson said. “This is all part of the urbanization of Miami.”

Holland & Knight’s lawyers are representing banks funding developers after a long drought.

“The finance practices are booming and related to that is real estate development, which is generating a lot of activity around the state,” said managing partner Steven Sonberg. “We work on a significant number of matters for banks and other financial institutions.”

Holland & Knight is working on project financing in Miami’s Design District, Overtown and downtown as well as Doral and hotels in Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean.

On The Horizon

As development slows in the next couple years and projects are completed, law firms anticipate a boom in construction litigation.

“If I see anything on the horizon, the cranes are going to slow down in the next couple years and litigation in the construction area will grow faster than new deals,” said Eugene Stearns, co-founder of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson in Miami. Its real estate, litigation, corporate securities, and labor and employment groups have been swamped with business, he said.

Another area of law that is developing in Florida for Becker & Poliakoff is public-private partnerships, or P3s. The firm formed a special group three years ago before the Florida Legislature passed a law smoothing the way for such partnerships.

“More government, especially local government, is recognizing the potential for infrastructure projects of all types,” Rosen said. “P3s are gaining momentum, especially in Florida, as a financing vehicle for all manner of projects.”

Greenspoon & Marder’s regulatory practice is busy based on evolving technology and that laws passed to regulate it, said managing partner Gerry Greenspoon.

“Technology changes so drastically, and what’s OK today is not OK tomorrow,” he said. “These companies may be receiving consumer complaints, and so much information passes through individual smartphones and smart apps the consumer protection statutes kick in. Our job is to alert them as to the latest statutes.”