There’s a shakeup going on in West Palm Beach legal circles.
Two senior partners at Greenberg Traurig’s West Palm Beach law office are jumping ship, including the partner who founded the venerable firm’s Palm Beach County offices.
Law firm politics, as well as changes in the firm’s priorities, were factors cited in the move by one attorney.
Howard Bregman, formerly managing partner for Greenberg’s Palm Beach County offices, and veteran litigator Gary Dunkel have joined Fox Rothschild, a Philadelphia-based national firm with a growing presence in West Palm Beach.
Greenberg Traurig’s response was upbeat but brief.
“This was a good time for change and we look forward with excitement to the next phase of growth, particularly for our leading corporate and real estate practices,” said Richard A. Rosenbaum, Greenberg Traurig chief executive officer.
Bregman is a high-profile presence in business and leadership circles. Not only did he create Greenberg Traurig’s Palm Beach County offices more than 20 years ago, he serves on the boards of the United Way of Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.
Fox Rothschild considers the addition of Bregman and Dunkel a coup.
“We’re obviously delighted and thrilled,” said Amy Rubin, managing partner of Fox Rothschild’s West Palm Beach office. “They are both dynamic lawyers and will add great depth to our practice here.”
Rubin said the move was “pretty much mutual.” Prior to his departure, Bregman’s tenure as Palm Beach County managing partner ended when attorneys Tracy Gerber and Mark Bideau became co-managing partners, reflecting shifts in power at the firm.
Bregman, a real estate transactional lawyer, said his departure was driven, in part, by the fact that Fox Rothschild is eager to beef up its real estate practice. Rubin expects the firm will be adding to the nearly two dozen attorneys it employs at its offices in the Esperante office building, where it is taking more office space.
Bregman concurred, and said he believes Fox Rothschild’s national presence will bring clients eager to invest in Palm Beach County real estate.
At Greenberg, Bregman said his real estate work was stymied by the firm’s increasing representation of bank lenders, rather than developers or borrowers. (That’s not the case at Fox Rothschild, Rubin said, which has only one major banking client.)
The situation at Greenberg frustrated Bregman, who left Philadelphia to open an office of the now-defunct Wolf Block law firm in 1982, and then opened Greenberg Traurig’s Palm Beach County offices about 22 years ago.
During the real estate downturn, “the last few years have been a disaster for me and my clients because I haven’t been able to represent them when they had problems with lenders because we were representing all those (banking) clients,” Bregman said.
On a broader scale, Bregman said his departure represents a shift in the firm’s priorities.
“The firm is evolving,” Bregman said. “I’m not saying whether it’s good or bad, but the firm was a great place if you represented entrepreneurial clients,” including clients local to a particular office, he said.
In recent years, however, the firm has been more focused on large institutional clients, such as Wall Street firms, or other large companies not necessarily based near a firm’s branch office.
In West Palm Beach, for instance, Bregman said much of the litigation is securities-related, on behalf of Wall Street firms. Other litigators represent Big Tobacco.
“We have no corporate lawyers, no estate lawyers and it’s totally unbalanced,” Bregman said. As a result, there’s little chance of an attorney in one practice area being able to refer business to another attorney, because most attorneys in the office are handling cases that are not local.
The situation has made recruitment difficult, even as other firms, such as Gray Robinson and Fox Rothschild, are starting to grow with the economy’s improvement.
Dunkel, who said it was difficult to leave Greenberg Traurig after 14 years, echoed Bregman’s remarks about Fox Rothschild being a better fit for a local practice.
“My practice is 90 percent local,” said Dunkel, who represents builder Dan Catalfumo and small local banks, such as Palm Beach Community Bank. “I feel I can develop (my practice) and it’ll flourish more,” Dunkel said. “I was very comfortable at Greenberg and they treated me fine. It wasn’t an easy move.”
Before the real estate downturn, Bregman said the West Palm Beach office had nearly 50 lawyers. The headcount now is 29, a firm spokeswoman said. The Boca Raton office, once at about two dozen, has 17 lawyers now, according to the firm spokeswoman.
Other top attorneys in town, although surprised by the news, lauded Bregman’s efforts to involve himself locally.
Patricia Lebow, who founded Broad & Cassel’s West Palm Beach office in 1983, said she has worked with Bregman in a variety of legal, community and business organizations, including the Economic Council.
Lebow congratulated Bregman on the move, but acknowledged: “It must have been a difficult decision after being with the same firm for so many years.”