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Holland & Knight Llp Business Information, Profile, and History

firm law smith office

195 Broadway, 24th floor
New York, New York 10007
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

Holland & Knight has more than 1,250 lawyers serving clients globally in virtually every area of the law. We encourage you to evaluate our firm based on the principles that drive us: strong and supportive relationships with our communities and clients and commitments to diversity and continuing education.

History of Holland & Knight Llp

With 31 domestic and international offices, Holland & Knight LLP is among the 20 largest law firms in the world. The firm's largest offices are in Washington, Chicago, New York, and Boston. Internationally, offices are located in Brazil, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, and Israel. Holland & Knight provides legal representation in more than 100 areas of law, divided into five major sections: Business Law; Litigation; Private Wealth Services; Public Law; and Real Estate, Environmental and Land Use.

A Merger Marks a Beginning: 1960s

Holland & Knight was founded in 1968, when the firm of Holland, Bevis Smith, Kibler & Hall merged with Knight, Jones, Whitaker & Germany. Both firms had been long-established Florida practices. Spessard Holland, a former Florida governor (1940-44) and U.S. Senator (1948-1972), opened his Bartow, Florida, practice in 1919; Peter O. Knight, cofounder of Tampa Electric Co. and the Exchange National Bank of Tampa, began his Tampa-based practice in 1889.

In 1968 the managing partner at Holland was Chesterfield Smith, who sought to diversify Holland's then mostly phosphate mining business. A merger with the Knight firm, which represented such companies as Tampa Electric and the Exchange National Bank, was therefore attractive. With Holland's high ambitions for growth, and under the leadership of Smith, Knight also would benefit from the merger. The only real difficulty involved the name, as no lawyer wished to be left out. The compromise, to keep only the names of each firm's founder, was one on which the firm would remain fiercely protective.

At the time of the merger, Chesterfield Smith emerged as Holland & Knight's managing partner. From the time Smith began working in Holland's office in 1951, he quickly began to build an impressive career. A former chairman of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission, Smith was completely loyal to the law. Later, he would even have a chapter devoted to him in Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. In 1969 he was given the Chamber of Commerce's "Distinguished Floridian of the Year Award."

Smith, it often has been said, was largely responsible for building Holland & Knight into a powerhouse. He had a vision of a statewide--and nationwide--law firm with no headquarters. By 1983 the firm had opened six new offices. First, Smith looked toward Miami, Florida's most lucrative legal market. The Miami office opened with three lawyers, though a 1980 merger with Glass, Schultz, Weinstein & Moss brought the number to 20, as well as four more in Fort Lauderdale (where the firm had also expanded). Other mergers brought a Holland presence in Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Bradenton. In 1972 Holland & Knight became the first Florida-based law firm to open an office in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee office allowed the firm to lobby on behalf of Florida clients and help them to bid on government contracts. Miami and Tallahassee expansions proved successful for the firm; others, such as Coral Gables and Fort Myers, did not.

As Smith's mergers brought attention to Holland & Knight, so did his associations with political figures. In 1973, as president of the American Bar Association, Smith was very vocal in his criticism of President Nixon for his "defiant flouting of law and the courts" during the Watergate scandal. In 1977, when the Miami-Dade State Attorney stepped down, Smith persuaded the governor to appoint his friend, Janet Reno. Other friends of Smith included Senator Bob Graham, as well as former governors Reubin Askew and Lawton Chiles.

Going National: 1980s-90s

While Smith's aggressive growth strategy was making Holland & Knight a name, it was also prompting discussions in the firm regarding strategy. Many partners felt expansion was happening too quickly. This was especially true when, in 1982, Smith opened an office in Washington, D.C., in a merger with Pope, Ballard & Loos. Even as the Washington office increased Holland & Knight's clients' advantage in lobbying and government contracts, some of the firm's attorneys thought the timing was bad. Interest rates were in the double digits; the Reagan administration was deregulating, thereby eliminating legal work; and Holland & Knight's profit margin was lower than in previous years. Regardless, in 1983, the firm expanded further, this time into Orlando. As partners grew more uneasy, Smith did what the law firm least expected: he decided to resign, claiming Holland & Knight needed fresh leadership and that he needed a break.

Internal conflict began when it became unclear who would step in for Smith. Eventually, the firm accepted Smith's suggestion to resolve the conflict: Robert Feagin became the managing partner, while Burke Kibler became chairman of the board. At this point, profits were suffering, having dropped from $10.62 million in 1984 to $10.61 million in 1985. The firm hired a consultant, who gave such suggestions as to bill clients more promptly, reduce overhead, bill clients for copying costs, and to stop providing personal secretaries for every lawyer. The situation did not immediately improve. Groups of lawyers split from Holland & Knight to form their own firms, taking their clients with them. In 1986 more than half of the Miami office and eight attorneys from Fort Lauderdale threatened to defect.

A compromise--involving the use of a three-person, rotating management committee--saved the firm from losing more attorneys (and their clients). The new committee, comprised of Feagin, W. Reeder Glass, and Bill McBride, was able to resolve many past problems in the firm. Pay levels for partners increased; clients were billed more promptly; new committees were formed to attract new clients; and a two-tiered system that made it more difficult to become an equity partner was enacted. Also, for the moment, expansion was halted.

This changed quickly in 1992, when Bill McBride was appointed solo managing partner. Under his direction, Holland & Knight went fully national. The firm established its second out-of-state office in 1994, when it opened an office in Atlanta through a merger with Webb & Daniel, trial litigation specialists. Earlier that year the firm had expanded its existing Washington, D.C., office by merging with the D.C. office of Dunnells & Duvall. From 1995-96, through mergers, Holland expanded its offices in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, strengthening the firm's capabilities in the fields of business litigation, health care, real estate, and local government. In 1997, merging with the 167-year-old firm Haight, Gardner, Poor & Havens, Holland expanded into New York and San Francisco, strengthening its capabilities in aviation, maritime, and international law, as well as confirming its national presence.

In 1998 growth was immense, involving expansion in Jacksonville and Orlando, as well as new offices in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Boston. The firm also established a joint venture office with Gallástagui y Lozano in Mexico City. Combined, the new presences boosted practice in syndication, trusts and estates, construction and intellectual property, banking, financial institutions, education, environmental law, litigation, corporate and securities practices, technology, maritime, and media law.

In 1999 the firm opened an office in Tel Aviv, Israel, through a strategic affiliation with Haim Samet, Steinmetz, Haring & Co. This marked the first time a foreign law firm had entered the Israeli legal marketplace. Also this year there was expansion into Melbourne, Florida.

During this time, Holland & Knight proved a commitment to community service and charity. Its full-time Community Services Team (CST) provided pro bono representation to those who required the resources of a large law firm but could not afford it. The firm was only the second in the country to make a full-time commitment of this nature. Holland & Knight's services to the needy preceded its formation of the CST. Chesterfield Smith, for one, received a number of awards for the free legal services he and the firm provided. Legal Services of Greater Miami named its main office building the "Chesterfield Smith Center for Equal Justice," while the nonprofit Florida History Associates named Smith a "Great Floridian." The firm's other community initiatives included a Holocaust Remembrance Project, run by the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, and the Opening Doors for Children charity program.

Increasing Competition after 2000

Holland & Knight's roll-up strategy, which the firm used in most of its expansions, was both imitated and criticized. The strategy involved acquiring, or as those in the firm referred to it, "combining with" an existing firm. The qualities Holland & Knight sought in such firms were: financial strength, a sizeable workforce, desire for growth, a history of community involvement, and a willingness for a new, shared, identity with Holland & Knight. Also, Holland & Knight sought firms that would fill specific areas of law in which they were lacking. The firm has also been known to woo groups of lawyers from other firms in order to fill a legal niche for Holland & Knight.

This type of expansion left some unhappy. Stanley Fineman, president of the Wilkes Artis law firm in Washington, D.C., for one, resented how Holland & Knight--in what the Washington Post dubbed a coup--walked away with 17 of its attorneys. While the two firms had spent months discussing a possible merger, Holland & Knight suddenly pulled out. Shortly after, the 17 lawyers migrated, leaving behind eight who specialized in property tax appeals, a practice for which Holland & Knight had no need. Other critics claimed that much of a firm's culture could be lost when expanding externally, though Holland & Knight deliberately sought firms with similar values. Either way, the strategy allowed for an impressive growth rate.

The year 2000 was again big for "combining" activity. In Washington, D.C., six nationally renowned lawyers in the field of diversity counseling and minority business development joined Holland & Knight. In Los Angeles and Seattle, noted Indian law firm Levine & Associates joined Holland. In the same month, the firm expanded to Southern California. Later that year Holland opened a representative office in Caracas, Venezuela, by aligning itself with Tinoco, Travieso, Planchart & Nunez. Then came a move into San Antonio, Texas.

In 2001 Holland & Knight was ranked the fifth largest U.S. law firm. It also scored highly in other categories, including having the largest number of African-American partners and being the first major Florida company to offer spousal benefits to gay employees. The firm also supported a great number of pro bono cases, and it was the only law firm to ever spawn two American Bar Association presidents (Chesterfield Smith and Tallahassee-based Martha Barnett).

Holland & Smith did encounter obstacles in sustaining its status. For instance, the crop of new law graduates was depleted when huge British law firms entered the scene. This so-called "Magic Circle" of London firms--larger and more prestigious than their American counterparts--began recruiting at American law schools. Also, the Big Five accounting firms--with large employee bases and deep pockets--also presented a challenge, as they pressed state bar associations to allow them to provide their own legal services for customers.

Internally, too, some of the issues the firm experienced in the 1980s remained. For one, Holland continued to experience lower than average profits, even as its revenue growth exceeded all but that of one firm in the 1990s. Holland's partners' average salary of $395,000 ranked 81st in 1999; a comparable firm's partners earned an average of $1.6 million. The salary difference, the firm maintained, was due to several factors: regional cost-of-living differences, discount billing rates; public service work; and its acquisition-based growth strategy (which resulted in a large number of partners for the firm).

In 2001 managing partner Bill McBride resigned in order to make a run (ultimately unsuccessful) for governor of Florida. McBride had led the firm for nearly ten years and was largely responsible for its international presence. When Robert Feagin assumed McBride's position, Holland continued to grow, both nationally and internationally. In 2001 it established a formal association with a South American law firm with offices in Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. The firm also expanded its offices in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 2002 the firm expanded its practices in Seattle and Chicago. The Chicago merger--with McBride, Baker & Coles--significantly strengthened the firm's real estate/financial services, labor and employment, and corporate and securities practices. Meanwhile, in the same year, Holland & Knight laid off 60 attorneys and 170 staff members nationwide. While the poor economy was cited as a reason for the layoffs, some insiders claimed that rapid expansion had diminished the firm's profitability. The layoffs followed an internal review of the firm, in an attempt to address the company's decreasing profits.

By 2003 the situation was improving for Holland & Knight. Profits were up. Profits per partner had risen to $435,000, 22.5 percent higher than the prior year. Moreover, Holland & Knight was named a top 100 law firm by American Lawyer magazine, while Corporate Board Member magazine named the firm's Tampa office the number one law firm in Tampa. Holland & Knight was also recognized for the top lawyers it employed. One partner was named one of America's Top Lawyers by Black Enterprise Magazine, while 32 other Holland attorneys were recognized as America's Leading Business Lawyers in the Chambers USA Guide.

Also in 2003, Howell W. Melton, Jr., was elected the firm's new managing partner. Most of that year's growth involved acquiring new attorneys from other firms. Georgia Senator M. Kasim Reed left the firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker to become a partner at Holland & Knight. The firm's Chicago office, meanwhile, gained Jack Siegel, dubbed "Dean of Illinois Municipal Law," from Altheimer & Gray.

The firm also began plans to significantly expand its Seattle office from 17 to 150 lawyers. The expansion, which would make Holland & Knight the fourth-largest law firm in the city, would enhance Holland & Knight's presence in the West, while also enhancing its capabilities in technology law, admiralty, maritime and aircraft law, and Indian tribal law. Plans for achieving the expansion included hiring lawyers away from other firms and merging with smaller Seattle firms. While the Seattle expansion would certainly increase the size of the law firm, it presumably would not do much to improve Holland & Knight's profitability, which consistently ranked toward the bottom, according to American Lawyer magazine.

Principal Competitors: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Altman Weil Inc.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1968: Holland & Knight is founded.
  • 1972: The company is the first Florida law firm to open an office in Tallahassee.
  • 1973: Chesterfield Smith, the company's managing partner, serves as the American Bar Association's president.
  • 1982: Holland & Knight opens an office in Washington, D.C.
  • 1983: Chesterfield Smith retires; Robert Feagin becomes managing partner; Burke Kibler becomes chairman.
  • 1986: A three-person, rotating management committee is enacted.
  • 1992: Bill McBride is appointed managing partner.
  • 1998: The firm experiences enormous growth, including expansions in Jacksonville, Orlando, Virginia, Boston, and Mexico City.
  • 2001: McBride resigns as managing partner; Feagin takes his place.
  • 2003: Howell Melton is elected the firm's managing partner.
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