Tallahassee is a town that will always be full of lawyers.
The presence of state government offices and the Florida Legislature requires a lot of watching from good legal minds. But there is not likely to ever be another law firm that will replace the notable firm started more than 40 years ago by former Supreme Court Justice Wade L. Hopping.
The demise of his widely known law firm, variously known as Hopping Boyd and later Hopping Sams and Hopping Green & Sams, exists no more.
The 10 lawyers left at the famous firm have now joined forces under a new shingle: Kutak Rock, a national firm with numerous offices and more than 560 lawyers scattered across the United States.
For some, it is a sad moment.
Hopping and the many other notable lawyers who passed through his firm since it was founded in 1979 were among the best. They virtually controlled the scene when it came to environment, financial, and government agency lawmaking.
They were not always the good guys. Sometimes they represented dreaded land developers and those who supported them. But even environmentalists who opposed the firm have praise for the lawyers who opposed them.
The lawyers at the Hopping firm over the years were highly regarded as pillars of the community and honorable lawyers.
For many of those — past and present — it is the end of an era and a sad time.
Former Supreme Court Justice Wade L. Hopping was a well-known lobbyist who led a team of lawyers who had cornered much of the expertise on laws dealing with Florida’s environment.
The 10 lawyers joining Kutak Rock are opening a Tallahassee branch with lawyers who handle environment, land use, real estate, and public finance. They represent community development and special districts in Florida and Alabama.
News that the Hopping firm had closed its doors came in a brief announcement posted earlier this month on Facebook by David L. Powell, a former member of the Hopping law firm who happens to also be a former reporter who covered the Capitol for years before becoming a lawyer. Powell retired from the firm and is writing a book based on interviews with Cubans who fled their country and came to the United States.
He shared a notice distributed by Hopping Green & Sams, advising folks in the Capitol that the firm would be closing its doors and would no longer provide legal services after Nov. 12.
“We extend our thanks and gratitude to all those we have had the privilege of serving and wish all our former attorneys and staff well as they move into the next chapter in their careers and lives,’’ the notice concluded.
Powell spent 30 years at the firm, initially carrying Hopping’s briefcase, a chore he recalls with pride.
“I have watched from the sidelines as this sad and dispiriting story unfolded,” Powell wrote in his Facebook note. “The visionaries who founded the firm in 1979 — Wade Hopping, Bill Boyd, Bill Green, and Gary Sams — made it possible for many of us to have satisfying careers at the leading edge of law and public policy in a firm with statewide reach. I will always be grateful to them.’’
Powell was there when the firm had more than 50 lawyers and believes the firm folded in part the way many other firms have collapsed after a third generation of lawyers takes over.
Powell served with the first and second generations and believes people left the firm over the years for various reasons after Hopping died and was no longer in control of a sort of collegiality that kept lawyers inside the firm from competing against each other.
“Wade was such a force,’’ Powell recalled. “He was a rare individual so willing to help people.”
Hopping died in 2009 of complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer. He was 77.
Hopping was appointed at age 36 as a Supreme Court Justice and served for five months, from Aug. 1, 1968, to Jan. 7, 1969, according to the Florida Supreme Court. After he left the court, he helped found the law firm and remained until his death.
Jonathan T. Johnson, one of the partners at the firm, said the remaining lawyers had spent much of the past year evaluating what they should do as some lawyers departed. This fall, as the number of lawyers dwindled, they made the decision to close the old firm and join the Kutak Rock firm.
“I’ve been at Hopping since 1992,’’ Johnson recalled. “It’s the only place I’ve ever worked in my life.”
Johnson would not speculate on why individual partners left, but noted that many of those around toward the end had not grown up in the office.
“You understand what it means to be a part of something bigger than you,’’ Johnson said.
Folks who came in later without the benefit of some who had been there began to leave and some left out of fear as those departures began. The remaining group of lawyers will move into new offices at 107 W. College Avenue, near the Governors Club, early next year.
“This is not what we chose,’’ Johnson added. “I loved Hopping Green and thought I would finish my days here, but I’m excited about our new home.”
The lawyers will find a familiar name at Kutak Rock: Leslie A. Powell, daughter of David Powell and Vicki Weber, is a partner in the firm’s Atlanta office.
The news that the Hopping firm had closed its doors stunned a number of lawyers and judges and some family members of past partners who were among more than 100 people who posted notes on Powell’s Facebook page after he shared the news.
Jim Eaton, a former aide to then-Gov. Bob Graham and a widely known lawyer and lobbyist, was among those posting notes. Eaton noted the pressures all law firms are under — both internal and external.
“When the founders are gone oftentimes the glue that held the place together goes with them,’’ Eaton wrote. “Getting lawyers to work cooperatively together is like herding cats even on the best days. Having known and admired both Wade Hopping and Bill Boyd, I’m sorry to see this happen.’’
Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early attached a note to a recent opinion.
“Through my 40 years as a member of the Florida Bar, the lawyers at Hopping were at times formidable adversaries and at times welcome allies,” Early noted.
“Regardless of circumstances, the Hopping lawyers were invariably civil, professional and well prepared. Some of those lawyers have passed, some retired and many are practicing at other firms. Nonetheless, the reputation of the firm is not diminished by the closing of its doors.’’
Lucy Morgan reporting via Florida Phoenix.
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