Writer: Joshua Andino
2 min read June 2021— While most businesses questioned how to best navigate the changing regulatory, legal, and tax landscape at the onset of the pandemic, it was the professional services sector that was there to provide guidance and help answer those questions. Now as Florida and the country begin to slowly close the chapter on COVID-19, many of those same firms are asking questions of their own as uncertainty remains around what the future may hold.
To understand the current and future lay-of-the-land for the professional services sector, Invest: spoke to some of Miami’s top accounting and legal professionals to gather their perspectives.
How did you adjust your operations to successfully continue working throughout the pandemic?
Stewart Appelrouth, Co-Founder, Appelrouth Farah & Co.
Our firm has always prided itself on being on top of technology. When COVID hit, we thought, maybe we’re not on top, but then again, it seemed that few firms were. But we rapidly came up to the top of the technology food chain. That was not easy, but the reality is that it’s one of the few things you can throw money at and get to the top of the food chain a lot faster. That’s what we did. Dealing with our people was, at first, a bit of a challenge. We were concerned for their safety, not just from COVID, but also their emotional health and families. Everyone says their firm is family-oriented; well, ours really is. We have unique benefits that many others in our industry do not offer.
Nicholas Christin, Managing Partner – Miami Office, Wicker Smith O’Hara McCoy & Ford, P.A.
I’ve been a managing partner at the firm since 1997 and we have never had a business plan for a pandemic. In the beginning, it was a shock. Many firms closed down, but that was not our strategy. We were fortunate enough to keep all of our employees and we maintained the small core of the employees in each of our offices but the remaining could work remotely. We wanted to maintain leadership in the office, periodically connecting with those people who were working remotely. We couldn’t have just a central location reaching out to everybody and so we divided it. We defend Fortune 500 companies and we’re fortunate to have a lot of great trial lawyers. We’re an extraordinarily busy trial firm and we expect to be back to normal to some degree by the fall.
Richard Cole, Managing Partner, Cole, Scott & Kissane
We are a civil litigation firm. While there have not been any trials, there still has been a lot of litigation that has been filed and the court system has figured out how to have cases litigated even up to the point of a trial. As a result, demand for our services has increased and we have been hiring people to help do the legal work of our clients. Florida also continues to be quite a growth state. Therefore, casualty types of situations occur and civil litigation follows that.
We started doing a new mentoring program where we have the senior lawyers go from office to office, as opposed to simply being in the office where they are normally located. We’re looking at ways to do smaller events so that people can feel more comfortable getting back together. We reached out to our younger professionals to see if there are things that we could do to make their lives more interesting and enriching, so it’s a work in progress.
What long-term changes do you foresee emerging in the near term future and how could these impact your business?
Appelrouth: People have been coming from all over, and we’ve certainly been picking up clients. The No. 1 reason for that is taxes. The No. 2 reason is that people have finally just had it with the weather up North. People have moved not only their families but their businesses. There are some problems in facing this influx, and these will require money. Foremost, I’m thinking of infrastructure. Our infrastructure, just like with the rest of this country, needs help. And it’s not just bridges and roads. Our school system is also in dire need of greater support and investment. Everything from teacher pay to class sizes. I also believe that our technology infrastructure must keep up to meet growing demand.
Christin: We have to react to change. We have 240 lawyers and many of them are young lawyers active in litigation. We are in the middle of a real estate bubble here and some of them won’t even qualify to buy a house. For many of them, it makes sense to live further away from the office and that means they may have to spend more time commuting. As we realized that a lot of our lawyers can be more productive working from home, using technologies like Zoom, that is going to be a permanent change. Regarding office space, there are a lot of opinions about how much companies will be cutting office space. We’re not reducing that much but we understand that is going to be another permanent change.
Miami is a big legal market. The legal spending in Florida is larger than in many countries in Europe. Business is also moving to Florida. For instance, Goldman Sachs recently decided to open an office in West Palm Beach. Wealthy people are also moving to Florida. That all means more transactional and litigation business and provides business opportunities for us.
Cole: We have expanded in a couple of areas. We are doing more general counsel work related to the fact that we’re getting more companies from out of the state moving into the state due to our strong economic development. The governor has been very good at opening up the state as best he can and, therefore, you see businesses in states that were more closed down coming to Florida, and particularly to South Florida.
Businesses like financial services are moving into Florida from the Northeast. We’re also starting to see a tech presence in Florida, and in Miami in particular, with companies coming from California. So, we are trying to reflect our services for those potential clients.
I think we are going to have more people who want to work remotely. We’re trying to address that to make sure that they have had enough experience that they won’t get lost by being remote. I think that the ability of people to do things by Zoom with the courts, such as with depositions, is going to be expanded.
What is your perspective for Florida’s recovery going forward?
Appelrouth: There’s going to be a massive rebound and growth. There is pent-up demand, not just in Miami but also in other counties like Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach. There will be two parts to the growth. The first will be in the tourism industry, which will be felt in the hotels and restaurants. The second includes the professional service businesses, like accounting and law. Our clients are coming to us and asking what they should do next in order to come out of the pandemic prepared for success. The initial rounds of PPP money, along with other loans and grants, helped companies and their employees get through the initial hardships, and that money, which is still available, will help to support the long-term future of businesses in our community and throughout the country. Now, we need people to get back to work.
Christin: We are in a growth state. With the population increase and the influx of business, I think Miami will be a vibrant place to do business, whether it’s legal or otherwise, for the foreseeable future. The limited housing availability is a challenge for us as it affects our ability to pay young lawyers sufficiently so they can live where we want them to live.
Cole: I think it’s going to be a strong end to 2021. We have a more open community, and more legal services are going to be required. 2021 should be a good year for most businesses. We’re not insulated from having an economic downturn but think this is going to be a good year for most businesses in the state of Florida.
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