By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read January 2020 — Expertise on the local market is a must in the legal sector, especially within the competitive landscape of the Tampa Bay region. Understanding the nature of the business community within the region and the apparent challenges are keys to a successful practice. Shutts & Bowen law firm’s Managing Partner Alan Higbee discusses the benefits of having specialized practices in the Tampa Bay area, as well as how to deal with economic cycles and not lose talent in the process.
Why is Tampa Bay a good location for a firm such as Shutts & Bowen?
A full service firm like ours has experience in many areas, including some areas that are not necessarily customary for this market, such as our experience in international trade and transactions, experience with large industrial companies and experience representing large and small federal government contractors. Interestingly, the demand for these specialty practices is actually pretty high in this market. Such specialties have often been sourced from larger markets in the past. In our experience, businesses in this market are generally very happy to see that these specialty resources are available here to help and that they don’t have to look to other markets such as Washington, D.C., or New York. For areas like federal government contractors, it makes sense to have that expertise here. I believe Florida is the third-largest market for federal contracting in the country and we are sitting outside the doors of MacDill Air Force Base, which has virtually every federal agency you can name, from all the defense agencies and divisions to the IRS.
How does the firm take part in the business brought to the Tampa Bay Area by new companies and startups?
Startup businesses in the Tampa Bay area come in many varieties, but some of the most promising are often spinoffs: people who have had very successful careers in larger businesses and have decided to go out on their own. Many of these companies have a need for legal services in areas of high specialization, such as healthcare, technology and government contracting. We also see an awful lot of companies that are relocating some kind of division or business unit, or their entire U.S. operations, to this market and, candidly, besides being a pretty sophisticated business center, this area is also a pretty nice place to live.
In the market for legal services, we also see an increasing need for trusted advisers. Lots of lawyers can tell you what the law is, but very few have the industry and business experience to also tell you what you probably should do and should not do. Lawyers who have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in a particular industry or business segment and can tell clients, “we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends,” are extremely valuable to their clients and are in greater demand than ever before.
What are the top challenges for the legal profession in the area?
The tightness of the labor pool is difficult, there is no question about that. It is certainly a major challenge for us. The other challenge is the general expansion of the needs of the market. We are becoming more sophisticated. When I moved here in 1980, the needs of this legal community were really pretty basic. In 2019, the businesses in this market are extremely sophisticated and that means their problems and issues are also very sophisticated. I think law firms generally need to consider developing or acquiring some of the specialty areas that are not necessarily indigenous to the Tampa Bay area. Acquiring such specialists can be hard. We have to go out and convince them that they will have enough work here.
How would a legal firm such as Shutts & Bowen deal with a potential economic downturn?
Things always happen in cycles. Like any business, we have to be prepared to handle those cycles. You have to position yourself to be adaptable and flexible, to learn to change what you are doing when necessary and to be able to pick up different kinds of work in the down cycle and be able to look outside your box to keep your talent busy. The down cycles are actually the best times to hire talent, because if your platform is doing well and you are able to find talent on other platforms that are doing well personally while their current platforms are struggling, you have a unique chance to capture that talent.
After every down cycle there is an up cycle. If you failed to keep your talent pool, and were not able to keep the collective resources and experience that you had, you start at a huge disadvantage when the market goes back up. On the other hand, if you are able to keep your talent pool intact through a down cycle, you generally have a huge advantage when the market recovers.
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