New firm emerges from Holland & Knight

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  • | 12:00 p.m. April 8, 2010
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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

Attorneys were practicing in labor and employment section

A new law firm will open in Jacksonville April 15 and the three partners will be leaving the worldwide firm of Holland & Knight to practice on their own.

The law firm of Alexander DeGance Barnett consists of Holland & Knight partner Mark Alexander, associate Kelly DeGance and associate Michelle Bedoya Barnett, all of whom have been practicing in Holland & Knight’s National Labor, Employment and Benefits Group.

Founded in 1968, Holland & Knight is one of the largest law firms in the world with about 1,200 lawyers and 21 offices stretching to four countries. They are in Atlanta, Beijing, Bethesda, Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Los Angeles, McLean, Mexico City, Miami, New York, Orlando, Portland, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Tallahassee, Tampa, Washington, D.C., and West Palm Beach.

“I’m very excited,” said Alexander. “I’ve been at Holland & Knight for 26 years. I took a job out of law school 26 years ago and this is the first time in my career that I have changed jobs. I’m excited to take on new opportunities.”

Alexander is a member of the Florida Bar’s Labor and Employment Section. DeGance is a member of both the Florida Bar and American Bar Association Labor and Employment Sections. Bedoya Barnett has served as Holland & Knight’s national training coordinator for the labor and employment practice group.

The trio decided to create the firm to respond to clients’ requests relating to a tough economic climate.

“The marketplace is the reality we all live in,” said Alexander. “One of the reasons we are doing this is to have more flexibility to meet the challenges our clients are experiencing in the current economic climate.”

All three partners agreed that the only way to gain the flexibility to meet their clients’ needs was to step away from the worldwide law firm and start their own smaller firm, which will allow them to operate without large overhead costs and create a flexible fee structure.

“At Holland & Knight, we worked with a good amount of colleges and universities who are asking for different fee arrangements,” said Bedoya Barnett. “With a big firm, you can’t do that. A small firm has flexibility with its fee structure to meet those needs during a tough economy.”

While the economy may be affecting clients’ needs, the firm is taking advantage of the recession to open the new business.

“We feel small firm boutiques are making a comeback,” said DeGance. “The economy didn’t affect our decision to open the firm, but it has contributed to our customers’ needs for a flexible fee structure. We feel it is a great time to be doing what we are doing.”

Missy Turra, executive partner for Holland & Knight in Jacksonville, said the office would continue the local practice.

“They are all great attorneys and we hate to see them go,” said Turra.

“But we will still maintain a good labor and employment practice locally, with Dan Coffman and Lindsay Dennis, and throughout the state. We don’t have any plans to hire right now, but we always have our eyes open for the opportunity to bring in talented attorneys,” she said.

The lawyers gave both Holland & Knight and the clients they serve at the firm notice about their intentions to start a new practice. Clients have the opportunity to stay with Holland & Knight or go with the new firm. Alexander, DeGance and Barnett have been pleased with the response from clients.

The new firm’s offices will be in the Wachovia Tower on the Northbank at One Enterprise Center, which is connected to the Omni Hotel.

Another former Holland & Knight partner remembered leaving the big firm to create his own practice.

“It was like this phrase I remembered from a book, you’re a little bit glad about where you are going and a little bit sad about where you are leaving,” said Thomas Bishop, a founding partner of Tanner Bishop.

“I was very excited. To have started a firm and have it succeed has been a really thrilling experience,” he said.

Jacksonville Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Committee Chair Thomas Harper understands why attorneys decide to step away from large firms.

“Lawyers like their independence and that gives them the ability to develop their own firm,” said Harper.

“The economy is a little tough right now for starting a new firm. (Lawyers) are not immune to the market. We are starting to see some of the fallout from the recession. Usually you see fallout a year after major changes in businesses, but we are seeing that at six months now,” he said.

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