The Sunshine State has remained a demographic bright spot in the United States with the United States Census Bureau reporting that Florida has become the fastest growing state in the nation. The Sun-Sentinel notes that South Florida, which is comprised of Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties, grew 10.3 percent from 2010 to 2020. Such growth owes to more than retirees seeking a warm place to live or high net worth individuals taking advantage of the state’s lack of income tax.
Attorneys have also come to Florida in significant numbers, making it the state with the fourth-largest population of lawyers according to the American Bar Association. Discussing the growth in the South Florida legal market, Bloomberg Law cites it has seen 59 percent increase in placements throughout South Florida since 2018.
Law Firms vs In-House
Fort Lauderdale is the most populous city in Broward County, and Broward County remains the second-largest county in the state. The United States Census Bureau lists its population at more than 180,000. Of that sum, 18.1 percent are 65 years old and older and 64.6 percent are employed. (These measures are greater than those of the country overall, which has an over employment rate of 58.6 percent and an elderly population of 13.2 percent.) Additionally, Fort Lauderdale contains 9,505 employers (i.e., businesses), and nearly one-fifth of the population is Hispanic or Latino. These unique characteristics inform the area’s top legal practice areas.
Conditions appear excellent for attorneys looking to connect with firms, but Fort Lauderdale also offers numerous opportunities for in-house practice. In fact, it may prove more attractive for those already licensed in other states. Florida lacks any sort of reciprocity with other states, requiring attorneys to sit for the Florida bar. However, the state will allow lawyers practicing in-house to do so without passing the Florida bar just so long as they are licensed in another state. (This also applies to foreign qualified attorneys.) Serving as in-house counsel is an attractive alternative in the Fort Lauderdale legal market for relocating legal talent that doesn’t want to commit time and effort to passing another bar.
In a 2021 article, Forbes noted that Fort Lauderdale in general (and the downtown area in particular) looked poised for substantial growth through 2030. Highlighting increases in finance jobs (33 percent), service positions (16 percent), and tech employees (10 percent) from 2018 to 2020, Jenni Morejon of the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority said, “What once was considered a vacation-only destination, Fort Lauderdale is thriving and poised to continue attracting high-profile businesses, an emerging talent pool and significant investment in infrastructure.” Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics backs up the idea that Fort Lauderdale’s economic base is booming with year-over-year increases from 2022 to 2023 in construction (1.7 percent), manufacturing (4.1 percent), financial activities (5.1 percent), education (2.6 percent), and hospitality (4.4 percent).
Due to the expansion of these fields, concomitant areas of legal practice are similarly poised to grow. Some of the most common fields include the following:
- Trusts and estates
- Corporate law
- Tax law
- International law
- Real estate law
While Fort Lauderdale continues to grow on both a demographic and professional level, legal talent should understand that the area lacks the depth of major markets such as New York, Chicago, or Houston, meaning that opportunities can appear and disappear more quickly.
“In 2023, there has been much discussion about recession and layoffs, especially with BigLaw. This is in juxtaposition to 2022 where we saw firms paying significantly above market and competing for candidates. What is of significant interest, is that not all geographic regions have reflected the current slowdown. Florida, and in particular, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Miami have continued to see growth in many areas including litigation, Trusts and Estates, labor and employment and tax.”
– Lisa Garcia, Garcia Legal Search
Salaries and Compensation
Salaries for attorneys working in Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding area generally average $144,000, but compensation can vary significantly based on whether council is firm-based, in-house, or governmental; field of practice; and applicant experience. Some examples of annual salaries in the Fort Lauderdale market are as follows:
- Senior Counsel (Tax): $216,000
- Business Litigation: $135,000
- Civil Litigation: $80,000 to $160,000
- Litigation Manager and Counsel: $110,000 to $190,000
- Legal Director of Operations: $120,000 to $150,000
- Associate Attorney: $90,000 to $120,000
- Assistant City Attorney: $66,000 to $124,000
- Government Agency Chief Counsel: $103,000
- In-House Council (Real Estate): $80,000 to $101,000
- In-House Associate Council (Corporate Law): $90,000 to $114,000
Conditions remain right for Fort Lauderdale law firms to continue to expand and for new firms to enter the market, especially in the downtown area. According to the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority, the price per square foot for office rents in downtown Fort Lauderdale is $50.92, representing a significant value over New York City ($81.44), the San Francisco Bay area ($81.19), and nearby Miami ($67.93). Vacancy rates in commercial real estate remain relatively high at 16.4 percent, near the highs of 18.2 percent in 2011. Construction of four major, multi-story facilities with space for offices, retailers, and multi-family residences is currently underway. Additionally, about 1,400 businesses fall within the legal and professional services category, making it the largest business sector by far (the next closest is real estate and construction at roughly 600 businesses).
For legal talent relocating to Fort Lauderdale, finding residential real estate may prove challenging. While the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority notes that the downtown area’s supply of rental units is nearly as great as that of Miami, the age of downtown residents continues to fall, with approximately half falling between the ages of 25 and 44. Even though the nationwide residential market shows significant signs of slowing, the Sun-Sentinel reports that area homes have still appreciated by 13 percent overall. Mansion Global foresees that Fort Lauderdale will remain a value when compared with Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties and that proximity to an airport and rail travel will continue to drive up the population.
Key Players and Influencers
Though Fort Lauderdale isn’t as established as other large American cities, it has developed a sizeable base of legal talent. Industries such as logistics and shipping, health care, hospitality, finance, and boating have buoyed legal practice in related field. Expanding businesses and a growing population have similarly led to growth in fields such as contract law, litigation, wills and estates, contract law and construction law. Major firms with a national (and often international) reach have begun to open offices in the city, firms such as Burr & Forman LLP (litigation, real estate, banking, and finance). Other major legal players in Fort Lauderdale include:
- Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC (commercial litigation, ERISA, banking, and finance)
- Dickinson Wright PLLC (real estate litigation, commercial litigation)
- Greenberg Traurig (banking and finance, estate, corporate)
- Akerman LLP (appellate, construction, bankruptcy)
- Holland & Knight LLP (maritime, banking, finance)
- Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP (white-collar criminal defense, health care, private equity)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, represents both an opportunity and a challenge for legal talent, especially those considering relocating to the area. Major economic and population expansion benefits the legal industry, prompting the need for expert counsel and providing the infrastructure for further growth. But Fort Lauderdale lacks the extensive development evidenced in nearby Miami, as well as the robust legal markets in major cities throughout the Northeast, Midwest, West, and Texas.
The best way to navigate a legal market such as Fort Lauderdale is to reach out to a qualified professional. The Legal Recruiter Directory can connect you with recruiters who know the nooks and crannies of South Florida’s legal landscape and can help you find the right position for you.