Greenberg Traurig, LLP History

Address:
1221 Brickell Avenue
Miami, Florida 33131
U.S.A.

Telephone: (305) 579-0500
Fax: (305) 579-0717

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1967
Employees: 1,100
Sales: $572.5 million (2003)
NAIC: 541110 Offices of Lawyers

Company Perspectives:

For more than three decades, our firm has challenged traditional approaches and worked to provide practical business-focused solutions for emerging companies and Fortune 500 Corporations.

Key Dates:

1967:
Firm is founded in Miami, Florida.
1985:
Broward County office is opened.
1991:
Larry Hoffman succeeds Melvin Greenberg as CEO.
1997:
Cesar Alvarez succeeds Hoffman as CEO.
1999:
Firm enters Chicago, Boston, Delaware, and Los Angeles.
2002:
Offices are opened in Amsterdam and Zurich.

Company History:

Miami-based Greenberg Traurig, LLP is an international law firm with approximately 1,100 lawyers in 24 offices located in such major U.S. cities as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, New York, and Washington, D.C. The firm in recent years has also expanded into Europe, opening offices in Amsterdam and Zurich. The Miami office handles the firm's Latin American business. According to the National Law Journal, Greenberg Traurig ranked as the 12th largest law firm in the United States in 2003. It was also listed by Fortune magazine as one of the top 25 most influential lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. During the 2000 Presidential election controversy in Florida, Greenberg Traurig represented George W. Bush.

Founding of Firm: 1967

Greenberg Traurig was founded in Miami in 1967 by three area lawyers: Melvin Greenberg, Robert Traurig, and Larry Hoffman. According to a 1991 Miami Review profile of the firm, "partners Greenberg and Traurig say one of the reasons the trio established the firm 24 years ago was that, as Jews, they didn't feel they'd fit in Miami's white-shoe corporate practices. So they opened their own firm, modeled after New York' smaller transactional practices that also are largely Jewish in population, Greenberg says." Greenberg became the chief executive officer, and Hoffman, in the words of the Miami Review, assumed the role of "a behind-the-scenes hatchet man and numbers cruncher." Traurig, a 1950 University of Miami School of law graduate, became something of a rainmaker for the firm in the real estate field of Miami-Dade County, much of which he attributed to fortunate timing. He told the Miami Herald in 2003, "As the population increased and the need for new residential communities became more obvious, I was in the right place at the right time. There were few people at that point who were representing builders and land developers at public hearings and I was the beneficiary of good luck." Perhaps of more importance was Traurig's ability to make important political connections in Miami-Dade. When major developers decided to become involved in the market, they quickly learned that the zoning lawyer who had the most pull and could deliver was Robert Traurig. He was instrumental in westward development to the Everglades, which some critics charged was detrimental to the long-range health of the area's environment. According to the Miami Review, "Traurig asserts that his work and the westward growth serve the county's long-range needs, specifically accommodating population growth. Damage to the environment, Traurig says, is minimized by environmental regulations and county reviews. Still, when he talks about the issue, Traurig admits he's 'defensive.'"

Greenberg's management style was conservative, and the firm was slow to expand beyond south Florida. A move into Palm Beach failed to take hold, primarily because Greenberg Traurig brought in Miami lawyers rather than hire locally connected attorneys. The business eventually petered away. The firm would not make the same mistake when it opened a Broward office in August 1985, and during its rapid expansion in the 1990s Greenberg Traurig became notorious for cherry-picking local talent to establish a beachhead in a new city on which to build--rather than to rely on growth through acquisitions. In the meantime, the firm carried on as a Miami firm that was mostly known for its real estate work. According to the Miami Review, Greenberg Traurig targeted "small and mid-sized companies," hiring "Jewish and Hispanic attorneys to attract similar clients." Greenberg intended to move into such practices as admiralty, labor, and immigration practices but, in his own words, "never got around to it."

In 1987, after being in business for 20 years, Greenberg Traurig took formal steps to transfer leadership from the name partners to a select group of 14 younger partners. It was a long-range plan that also included the turnover of the chief executive position to a second generation lawyer, which the older partners expected would emerge from a group of candidates. An ex-firm attorney told the Miami Review these candidates were "all Mel and Larry's favorites," and went on to state that the senior partners "cultivate people as their favorites. In exchange, those people provide them with information. They become their extra eyes and ears."

Hoffman Succeeds Greenberg in 1991 As CEO

With the onset of a recession, Greenberg Traurig's business suffered in 1990. It was a difficult year on another front as well. In the fall Greenberg underwent brain surgery, and although the operation appeared to be successful, in January 1991 he suddenly quit as chief executive, but only--according to the Miami Review--"after firing a number of lawyers and cutting partners' pay. Then, instead of passing the mantle to the next generation of lawyers the firm had been nurturing for the past several years, the top management job went to Larry Hoffman." There was even some speculation that the firm might break up.

To the surprise of many, Hoffman proved to be an extremely aggressive leader. He immediately announced that the firm would become involved in new practice areas such as admiralty, trade, immigration, labor, and domestic relations, and would open new Florida offices. After opening an office in Fort Lauderdale, in January 1992, the firm acquired the north Florida law firm of Roberts, Baggett, LaFace & Richard, adding 13 lawyers and giving Greenberg Traurig a major presence in Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Hoffman's vision proved to be even more expansive. In little more than a year, Greenberg Traurig not only opened offices in three Florida markets it set up shop in New York City, and a Washington, D.C. office soon followed. Then, in 1995, Hoffmann opened a central Florida operation headed by former U.S. Congressman Jim Bacchus, who had a previous association with Greenberg Traurig in the early 1980s before serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The firm's second generation of lawyers would now continue the expansion set in motion by Hoffman. When he stepped down as CEO in 1997--although he remained chairman of the board--the firm had grown to 325 lawyers. His replacement as chief executive was Cesar L. Alvarez, who became the first Hispanic head of a major law firm, a fact that held little value to him. "I view it as a statistical anomaly," he told the National Law Journal in a 1999 interview. "I don't think anybody ought to be anything because they're Latin or black or Jewish or anything else. I would feel very badly and I would not have taken the job if they gave it to me because I'm Latin." Alvarez was born in Cuba in 1947 and fled the country in 1960 with his family. He was educated at the University of Florida, earning an economics degree in 1969, an M.B.A. in 1970, and a law degree in 1973. He was recruited by Mel Greenberg at a time when only a handful of Cuban-Americans worked at the major Miami law firms. He became lawyer number 13 at Greenberg Traurig, practicing securities, corporate, and international law. From 1981 to 1982 he served as executive vice-president at Air Florida, then resumed his career at Greenberg Traurig. Fifteen years later he was the unanimous choice of the board to lead the firm into the future.

Alvarez's plan was to make Greenberg Traurig an international law firm, as well as continue domestic growth. His first step was to open an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he hoped to take advantage of corporate finance opportunities and build on relationships with lawyers in other Latin American countries to beef up the firm's referral network. The Brazil office, however, would eventually be abandoned, and the firm's Latin American business was folded into the Miami office. Alvarez was also keen on opening a London office, but instead of entering Europe through London, Alvarez for the next five years focused on extending the firm's U.S. reach.

In 1997 Greenberg Traurig added another Florida office, located in Boca Raton, Florida. In May of that year the firm also opened an office in Philadelphia, which started out with just three attorneys. Greenberg Traurig entered the Atlanta market in 1998 by merging with Atlanta-based Katz, Smith & Cohen, a major entertainment law firm whose clients included B.B. King, Willie Nelson, George Strait, and Jimmy Buffett. As a result, Greenberg Traurig gained an office in Atlanta and bolstered its presence in entertainment law, supplementing the New York office's involvement in corporate entertainment and litigation entertainment practices, and the Miami office's Latin America-based entertainment practice. A year later the Atlanta office, with 12 lawyers, would be significantly enlarged, again by way of acquisition. The unit merged with Minkin & Snyder, a deal that added 26 lawyers and the addition of nine new practice groups. Also in 1998, Greenberg Traurig opened an office in Tysons Corner, Virginia, with nine established attorneys hired from area law firms. This office targeted northern Virginia's slate of high tech companies, to serve start-ups as well as emerging and mature companies in the sector.

New Office Openings: 1999

Greenberg Traurig was especially active in 1999. It hired 36 new lawyers to support its Florida offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach, and opened four new offices outside the state. In January the firm opened its first Midwest office, in Chicago, hiring several area lawyers to initially focus on business bankruptcy and commercial litigation. Later in 1999 Greenberg Traurig entered the Boston market by hiring three high-profile, well-connected lawyers from the Boston office of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott LLC. Next, Greenberg Traurig opened its first office in Phoenix. Rather than cherry-pick on this one, it hired 30 lawyers that had been employed by the 40-year-old firm of O'Connor Cavanaugh, the area's third largest law firm which had broken up several weeks earlier. The new unit specialized in corporate securities, commercial litigation, employment law, financial services, and technology and intellectual property. In September 1999, Greenberg Traurig established a Wilmington, Delaware, office in order to serve clients who appeared in Delaware's important bankruptcy and business courts. Finally, late in 1999 Greenberg Traurig opened an office in Los Angeles by acquiring a pair of small firms: the solo practice of Carol Perrin, who became managing partner, and the ten attorneys of Goldberg, Scott, Belfield, Steinberg & Cohen. It was a move that would lead to much unwanted publicity.

According to American Lawyer, "Greenberg Traurig bungled its entrance onto the Los Angeles stage. For a year, its new office was home to a bitter partnership feud. It was one part human drama and one part farce." The magazine quoted a former shareholder from another Greenberg Traurig office, who maintained that the firm entered "markets too quickly and they don't thoroughly check the quality of the lawyers they're hiring. ... When you do that enough times, it's inevitable that things will go wrong." According to the Miami Herald, "Almost immediately, lawyers and staffers complained to management in Miami that Perrin was abusive and dishonest. ... The most serious accusation was that Perrin delegated work to subordinates, then billed clients at her much higher rate." When Perrin was cleared of these charges by Greenberg Traurig, Los Angeles partner Steven Goldberg quit and then filed suit, alleging that the firm breached its employment contract with him by allowing Perrin to engage in dishonest, unprofessional, and unethical conduct. Perrin maintained that Goldberg, her chief antagonist, was pursuing a vendetta against her because she had spurned his efforts at courting her. (Both lawyers were divorced, lived close to one another, and their children were friends.) After more than a year of turmoil, Greenberg Traurig put the matter behind it by settling Goldberg's suit. Perrin stayed on, although she no longer served as managing partner.

Greenberg Traurig nearly doubled the size of its New York office in 2000. First it picked up 50 attorneys from the office of Graham & James, and a month later, in August 2000, it added 40 more attorneys from the defunct Manhattan firm of Camhy Karlinsky & Stein. As a result, Greenberg Traurig's New York office now housed 220 lawyers, making it one of the 30 largest law firms in the city. In New York size clearly mattered, and picking off lawyers one or two at a time was not a viable strategy in a market undergoing a wave of consolidation among law firms. In particular, the added slate of lawyers helped Greenberg Traurig to beef up its underwriting, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, and telecommunications practices.

At a time when other firms were forced by difficult economic conditions to cut back, Greenberg Traurig responded by launching another growth spurt in 2002. The Arizona office added high-tech legal expertise by acquiring the law practice of Weinberg Cummerford Legal Group. The firm also opened a new office in Morristown, New Jersey, following its longtime model of cherry-picking local talent. In this case it was Phillip R. Sellinger, a former assistant U.S. Attorney and former chairman of the litigation department at Sills, Cummis, Radis, Tischman, Epstein & Gross. Sellinger became the managing partner, and only attorney, of the new office, but he took with him from Sills Cummis such major clients as Hitachi Data Systems and Toshiba. Also in 2002, Alvarez realized a long-held goal of moving into the European market. Rather than London, which was saturated with corporate law firms, he selected Amsterdam as an entry point. A second office on the continent was opened in Zurich, where the firm hired five attorneys who represented European-based film and television production companies and already had relationships with Greenberg Traurig attorneys in the Los Angeles Office.

Further expansion followed in 2003 and 2004. The firm opened its first office in Dallas in 2003, luring away the 15-attorney unit of St. Paul, Minnesota-based Larson King, which had launched its Dallas effort a year earlier. In 2004 Greenberg Traurig opened two new offices in California, in Irvine and Palo Alto, to become involved in legal work in Silicon Valley. Alvarez considered the time to be right to enter the market. An earlier move, during the superheated days of the tech sector in the late 1990s, would have been too costly. Moreover, rather than open an office right after the tech bubble burst, Alvarez opted to wait until there were signs that the sector was beginning to pick up. It was an important step for Greenberg Traurig, filling in one of the gaps in its aggressive quest to become one of the United States' leading international law firms.

Principal Competitors: Holland & Knight LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.

Further Reading:

  • Braverman, Paul, "Firm Anxiety," American Lawyer, July 2001, p. 98.
  • Bronstad, Amanda, "She Said, He Said, They Said," Los Angeles Business Journal, November 26, 2001, p. 1.
  • Fakler, John T., "Greenberg Traurig Remains Big Dog of So. Fla. Law Firms," South Florida Business Journal, January 14, 2000, p. 47.
  • Goodman, Cindy Krischer, "Miami-Based Law Firm to Expand into Europe," Miami Herald, November 15, 2002.
  • ------, "New Chief at Miami's Largest Law Firm Has International Ambitions," Miami Herald, April 17, 1997.
  • Itkoff, Valerie Greenberg, "Greenberg's New Stripes," Miami Review, June 21 1991, p. 11A.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 65. St. James Press, 2004.