Couple Finds Happiness off Miami's Fast Track – Article text content
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CAN two ambitious young lawyers from leading Miami law firms find small-firm happiness — and big-firm profits — in a two-lawyer practice in suburban Broward County?
For Roy Oppenheim, 32, and Ellen Pilelsky Oppenheim, 30, the answer appears to be yes.
Founded by the husbandCOUPLE FINDS HAPPINESS OFF MIAMI’S FAST TRACK
-and-wife team in July 1990, Oppenheim & Pilelsky grossed more than $250,000 last year, the partners say, thanks to a healthy mix of litigation and corporate clients looking for big-firm quality at small-firm prices. The firm expects to hire its first full-time associate this fall and may add two more next year.
“Big firms often represent faceless institutions,” Roy said. “We envision our practice almost the way law was practiced in the 1800s. Our clients can call us, and we will not bill them for every call. They honestly think we are on their side, and we are.”
At a time when many bright, young associates are losing jobs at cash-strapped South Florida law firms or scrambling to keep them in the face of paltry raises, the Oppenheims’ experience is worth noting. Many of their counterparts have thrown in the towel.
Like many young lawyers, the Oppenheims met in law school — Northwestern, in their case. After graduation, Roy snapped up an offer from New York’s prestigious Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, while Ellen secured a job at a well-regarded litigation firm. But the couple soon discovered that the Big Apple track was not for them. In 1988, the Oppenheims moved to South Florida — Roy to join the Miami office of White & Case, Ellen to work at Miami’s Thomson Muraro Razook & Hart and, later, the Broward County state attorney’s office.
What prompted the Oppenheims to go out on their own was the birth of their daughter, now three. Quitting the prosecutor’s office, Ellen hung up her shingle and began working part time
from home. In 1990, when her litigation practice began to take off, she moved to an office in Weston, the west Broward community the couple now calls home. Soon after, Roy, a corporate and real estate lawyer, quit his job at White & Case and joined her.
“At the time, my colleagues thought I was nuts,” Roy recalls.
But any doubts vanished as the clients began to roll in. Today, Oppenheim & Pilelsky’s clients include London & Leeds, a real estate developer; Sea Power Group, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate; and Hialeah-based All-American Emblem Corp., which manufactures embroidered patches for sale to military bases. The firm is also general counsel to ShopSmart, a Plantation-based promotions and marketing company that Ellen’s family started several years ago.
But, despite the firm’s success, billing hours is not the bottom line at Oppenheim & Pilelsky.
In fact, Roy acknowledges that he’d probably be making more had he stayed at a big firm — he and his wife now now net roughly $75,000 apiece. Still, he says he has no plans to go back: Whatever he’s currently losing in salary, he’s more than recouping in other ways — the chance to have his daughter come to the office in the afternoon and play computer games, for one.
“It’s a lifestyle question,” Roy says. “It’s a question of nobody pulling your chain, nobody telling you what to do. That’s the American Dream.”
Has Bruce Rogow finally gone too far?
In years past, the prominent Nova Law Center professor has amazed his family, friends and colleagues by taking on unpopular clients such as Klansman David Duke and the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew.
But now Rogow has done the unthinkable — he has agreed to help three Florida sugar companies appeal a $50 million judgment handed down in a cane cutters’ class-action suit last month. His clients — Atlantic Sugar Association, Osceola Farms Co. and Okeelanta Corp. — are all controlled by Palm Beach’s powerful Fanjul family, often targeted by public interest lawyers and the media as among the nation’s biggest labor exploiters. (Miami’s 140-lawyer Steel Hector & Davis, which defended the case at trial, will help handle the appeal.)
Rogow says he took the case, in part, because he sees the cash-rich sugar barons as the latest in a series of underdogs and partly to shake up the widely held notion that he handles only “politically correct” cases involving important civil- liberties issues.Of course, money also played a role, Rogow admits, though he denies reports that he has accepted a $250,000 retainer. “I wouldn’t be so brazen as to say that this is some kind of pro bono case,” he said.Meanwhile, some of Rogow’s colleagues in the public interest bar are not too thrilled about his latest crusade. Former ACLU of Florida Legal Director Jim Green, a West Palm Beach sole practitioner who is representing the cane cutters, had this to say: “Bruce Rogow has revealed an awful lot about himself by taking this case, and it’s sad. It’s especially sad when someone you considered to be a friend turns on you.”
“If he wins this case,” Green added, “I hope he’ll be able to live with himself.”
Countered Rogow: “Every case I take, somebody’s angry about it. I’m waiting for the day that I get a popular client.”
* Veteran Miami appellate lawyer Sam Daniels and his partner, Patrice Talisman, will join Miami’s 45-lawyer Paul Landy Beiley & Harper as of Sept. 15.
Daniels, 65, who had previously considered retirement, says he got “three or four” offers from Miami law firms but opted to join Paul Landy because the firm made him an offer he could not resist. Daniels will join the firm in an of-counsel capacity, while Talisman will become a senior associate with the expectation that she will later be considered for partnership if things work out.
As for Daniels, “I’m allowed to do as much or as little as I want over there,” he said, adding that he has no regrets about disbanding his two-lawyer practice. “I’m just happy to have such a wonderful arrangement.”
* Miami litigator Jill Nexon Berman has been named head of litigation at 35-lawyer Valdes-Fauli Cobb Bischoff & Kriss, becoming one of the first women in South Florida to attain such a position. Berman, a partner at the firm for six years, replaces Bill Crenshaw, who left the firm in May to join Washington’s Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy. Berman said that under her direction, Valdes-Fauli’s litigation department will continue to focus on bankruptcy matters while continuing to represent government agencies and domestic and foreign financial institutions.
* Miami’s 140-lawyer Steel Hector & Davis has teamed up with a 35-lawyer firm in Venezuela, Bentata Hoet and Associates of Caracas, to refer business to one another and work together on client matters.
photo: Roy Oppenheim (n), Ellen PILELSKY, Bruce Rogow
(n), Jill Nexon BERMAN
Copyright (c) 1992 The Miami Herald
Record Number: 9205200251