Carl Schuster and the Ruden McClosky law firm he's worked at for 47 of the firm's 50 years are a lot like a married couple. So it gives Schuster, 72 and the Fort Lauderdale law firm's managing partner for the past 20 years, cold comfort to find economic pressures forcing the firm to jettison both its St. Petersburg and Sarasota offices. Those two offices and their 23 attorneys plus staff will become the first Florida offices of a New Orleans law firm, Adams and Reese, seeking to enter the Sunshine State. Schuster spoke with Robert Trigaux of the St. Petersburg Times last week and discussed the difficult economy and his law firm's plans to keep the regional Ruden McClosky flag flying from its office in Tampa. Here are excerpts of that conversation.
You've been practicing law since John F. Kennedy was president. Have you ever experienced an economy as rough as this one?
I've seen plenty of down trends in the '80s and early '90s but by everything I have ever read, this is the worst since the Depression. But you know something? You've got to tighten the belt and to do the things you need to do to keep going. And that is what we have done. While I am not happy to see these people go, we'll come out fine, and we will consolidate the three area offices (St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa) into one.
What is the strategy behind consolidation into Tampa?
This was not unexpected, though some of the St. Petersburg and Sarasota attorneys had been with us 10 or 15 years. What it enables us to do is concentrate on bigger cities and, frankly, other core offices in other cities, and to hire some high-level laterals to help us generate business in these offices. The Tampa office currently has around 25 attorneys.
So what's the practical impact on the law firm?
We'll go from about 150 attorneys to 130, in round numbers, and from 11 offices in Florida to nine.
Does Ruden McClosky have certain specialties that made the law firm more vulnerable in this recession?
We are best known for our real estate and land use practice. And there has not been much of that lately in Florida. We are also known for our litigation practice, which has been growing. Having 11 offices means we also had 11 receptionists and 11 bookkeepers, etc. The economy is making us leaner and meaner.
So the St. Petersburg and Sarasota offices will remain but under the Adams and Reese name?
They will be taking over our leases, basically lock, stock and barrel. So our liabilities and revenues of those offices will go to the new firm.
Will Ruden McClosky lose any specialized legal expertise?
Well, in our St. Petersburg office David Bernstein is one of the premier mobile home and manufactured housing attorneys. That's about the only area of expertise we do not have elsewhere.
What about the incoming New Orleans firm?
Our firm just celebrated 50 years and the Adams and Reese firm's been in existence longer than we have. I think they wanted to establish a beachhead in Florida since they are also in states like Texas, Tennessee and Alabama.
I'm sure you've read the recent National Law Journal survey that reported the biggest drop ever in total employment at the nation's 250 largest law firms?
Yes, we were supposed to keep growing, not reduce staff. Everyone's been affected by the economy. Even newspapers.