South Florida recruiters are seeing a legal market hungry for real estate lawyers, especially at the senior partner level, while corporate M&A, private equity and health care practices are hot, too.
"There are two things that I see as insatiable demand right now — corporate M&A and real estate," said Joseph Ankus, president and founder of Ankus Consulting Inc. "Real estate, commercial real estate and mergers & acquisitions are the two hottest areas on my desk right now. When there is demand for one there is usually demand for the other. Transactional trends tend to follow each other fairly closely."
Abbe Mald Bunt, president of Bunt Legal Search, said she sees the hiring demand in both development and financing areas of real estate.
A few years ago when the real estate bubble burst and there was less real estate work, many attorneys in that practice area retooled themselves into corporate or zoning lawyers, or something transactional that still touched on real estate, she said. Generally, attorneys who are happy doing real estate continue doing so unless the economy forces them out, as it did in 2008, she said. Now that there is more work, including more development, firms want to re-expand their real estate practices.
"I'm seeing the smaller and midsize firms having an increased demand for real estate practitioners," Bunt said. "There's an abundance of work at every level, and from time to time the larger firms have been able to attract talent from the midsize firms and that's created the void at the midsize firm."
Joshua Dull, a partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, said there is a shortage of supply of top quality, senior level real estate partners with books of business who are actually willing to move.
"It's on every firm's wish list, as is corporate M&A and private equity," Dull said. Corporate M&A and private equity is a midmarket practice in South Florida, but it's very much in demand.
Holland & Knight managing partner Steve Sonberg said earlier this year that the firm added about 25 attorneys last year in the private equity and mergers and acquisitions practices. The areas performed well and were expected to be important drivers in 2017 and going forward.
Of course, if a lawyer has an impressive book of business, even firms that are strategic in their hiring might be interested, regardless of the practice area.
"Assuming that the clients and the rates fit within the respective firm's system, even though bankruptcy or litigation is slow, if I were to offer a candidate with a $2 million book of business, there aren't many firms that wouldn't want to talk," Dull said. "The reality is most firms are looking to add partners with viable books of business and portable clients, regardless of the practice area."