Editor: Akerman Senterfitt has shown tremendous growth over the past several years, having achieved recognition as the largest firm in Florida and a market leader in many practice areas. As Chairman and CEO of the firm, please describe the blueprint for that growth - was it organic or by acquisition?
Cardwell: The nature of this firm is to grow organically, in the directions that our clients need us to grow, both in terms of geography and practice area. Having now reached the milestone of 500 attorneys and consultants in 12 offices across the country, we are confident that we continue to be on the right track. Some of our growth over the years has been boosted by acquisitions, but those have been in line with our strategic plan, and not simply for the sake of increasing our numbers.
Editor: The Census Bureau estimates that Florida's population grew approximately 1,100 people per day during the period July 1, 2003 to July 1, 2004 - a growth rate that is expected to continue. How is your firm poised to support Florida's continued growth?
Cardwell: We plan to continue to be a principal law firm in Florida. We have built an organization that covers all the major metropolitan areas, and we have the practice skills to serve the broad market. We will grow with the state in terms of geography and practice depth to match the increasing size and sophistication of the business community.
Editor: Florida's remarkable growth is not only in terms of population but also as a national and international economic leader. What are some of the industries that are in the forefront of the state's strong economic growth?
Cardwell: Florida is making a strong commitment to attracting and continuing to develop knowledge-based industries such as biotechnology, medical science and research, and electronic and computer businesses. There is also focus on international trade, particularly in Spanish-speaking nations. Destination tourism both domestic and international are important and growing. The demographics of the baby-boomer generation mean that we can expect business development related to the tremendous expenditures that will come with both retirement and the ability and desire of that group to change lifestyles. Our firm is deeply engaged in each of these areas in Florida.
Editor: Florida's geographic position makes it a gateway for international trade and finance. As trade expands, how is your firm adapting to provide the most comprehensive and cost-effective solutions to meet your clients' legal needs?
Cardwell: Our international practice is multilingual, multicultural and cross-disciplinary. We are helping U.S. clients to grow their international business activities and assisting foreign clients to establish businesses and flourish in the United States. Our international practice group includes professionals from all our offices statewide and outside Florida, and from every major practice group including Corporate/Securities, Banking, Tax, Immigration, Admiralty, Aviation, Intellectual Property, Real Estate and Litigation.
In addition, the head of our International Policy group, is the former president of the Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas, Jorge Arrizurieta, who continues to work with leaders in Washington, across the state and throughout the hemisphere, on behalf of the firm's global clients.
Editor: As Chair of the Financial Institutions Group, you and your firm have contributed to the development of financial institutions in the state. You also serve as General Counsel to the Florida Bankers' Association. Please tell our readers about your and the firm's role in the financial institutions industry in Florida.
Cardwell: Akerman Senterfitt has been one of the leading firms in the financial services industry in Florida for over 50 years. Representing the Florida Bankers Association, we have had our hand in much of the statutory and administrative structure that governs financial institutions in the state. In addition, we represent many financial institutions with regard to transactions and litigation. We have many years' perspective and experience with respect to financial services both in the state as well as nationally.
Editor: Congratulations on the many accolades that your firm has received for promoting diversity. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association presented your firm with the 2006 Thomas L. Sager Award for diversity leadership, and MultiCultural Law magazine named your firm the Top Law Firm for Hispanic Americans for the second year in a row. What attracts the best and brightest in a diverse workforce to your firm?
Cardwell: From the beginning of the relationship between the firm and the minority lawyer, mentoring and promotion are stressed. Many of our shareholders, practice group chairs and members of the board of directors are women and minorities, demonstrating to associates that promotion and top positions are a real possibility for them.
Judge Joseph Hatchett, the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, and the first African American to serve as a Chief Judge of a federal appellate court in the southern United States, serves as the head of the firm's Diversity Committee and as the chair of our appellate practice. He was recently inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame, in recognition of his more than 40 years of dedication to the cause of justice and equality before the courts of the United States and on behalf of the African-American community. He is a fine example to potential recruits of Akerman's commitment to diversity.
Editor: How are your firm's efforts to advance diversity incorporated into your firm's culture? For how long has the firm taken leadership in this area?
Cardwell: We are proud that ensuring equal opportunity generally and within the firm is a priority at Akerman. As one of Florida's oldest law firms, the firm has successfully promoted diversity over the years through vigorous recruitment, retention and promotion of its women and minority lawyers and non-lawyers. Our mission is to develop professional opportunities and to foster an environment in which minorities and women may perform proudly and give the firm's clients the benefits of a law firm balanced fully in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.
Editor: How does the breadth of experience, culture and education of your firm's attorneys and staff, working together in multidisciplinary groups, enhance the excellent services that you provide to your clients?
Cardwell: The Akerman client list includes nearly 100 corporations that belong to the 'Call to Action - Diversity in the Legal Profession.' These major corporations have made a commitment to actively look for law firms that distinguish themselves in diversity issues, and to end or limit relationships with firms whose track records reflect a lack of meaningful interest in diversity.
Our workforce, including every staffing level throughout each of our offices, reflects the diverse culture of our clients. Our lawyers provide clients with a diverse set of experiences, cultures, education and rich backgrounds to the task. We value this diversity because it encourages innovative thinking that results from a broad range of perspectives.
Editor: What goals do you expect the firm to achieve in the next years?
Cardwell: The firm has always enjoyed steady growth, and we expect that to continue. Our revenues are up 17 percent over last year, so our business model continues to serve us well. While our headcount now establishes us as the largest law firm in Florida, we also continue to recruit top talent to service our clients. We increased our overall rankings in both Chambers and Best Lawyers by more than a third. We were also chosen in a rigorous selection process as the Florida firm for Lex Mundi, the world's leading association of independent law firms. We are confident that the 85 years of success the firm has enjoyed to date will continue for many more years to come.
Published December 1, 2006.