How I Made Partner
December 10, 2020

City: Miami

Practice area: Land development and government relations

Law school and year of graduation: Vanderbilt University, J.D., 2004. University of Miami, LL.M., 2006

How long have you been at the firm? Five years

How long were you an associate at the firm? Two years

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? I was an associate at Pathman Lewis for six years.

What year did you make partner at your current firm? 2017

What’s the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming partner? Since becoming a partner, I feel an enhanced sense of ownership and responsibility regarding the immediate and long-term success of Bilzin Sumberg. I have also realized that my day-to-day life is not just about my business development, so I constantly look for new opportunities to help others at the firm with their business goals.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? It was a combination of a few different factors, including my willingness to stay open-minded and accept criticism from others. Regardless of how experienced or educated you are, there is always room for growth. Being open to change and embracing opportunities to learn has played a significant role in my professional development. You also cannot be focused merely on yourself, but instead you must constantly seek out opportunities to help others succeed at the firm.

Describe how you feel now about your career, now that you’ve made partner. Once you become a partner, you have a clearer understanding of the business demands of the law and gain a new perspective because the shoe is on the other foot. Bilzin Sumberg is South Florida-made and globally connected, and our attorneys are at the center of all industries and issues shaping the state. As a partner at a firm that has a hand in almost every major transaction taking place in Florida, I feel a tremendous sense of pride, especially when I can create cross-department teams to collaborate on large, complex real estate development projects.

I am also motivated to help younger attorneys develop their personal approach to practicing the law, and I try to encourage professional development in all aspects of their careers.

What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? The key to successful business development is building trust and understanding your client’s business goals. I learned this firsthand as a business owner after I founded my own company prior to practicing law, and that experience played a critical role in shaping my legal career. I view each client as a business partner and approach their objectives as if they were my own. I do not believe in the “plug and play” approach—every strategy should be tailored for the client. Lastly, it’s important to go the extra mile to make sure the client’s goal(s) are advanced and that they are satisfied with the result.

What’s been the biggest change, day-to-day, in your routine since becoming partner? As a partner, I can be more autonomous and have the ability to structure matters from beginning to end, including creating client teams. It is critical to understand not just the legal issues but the best team to tailor for each specific project. At Bilzin Sumberg, we collaborate across practices, and I frequently find myself working with the firm’s practice group leaders to curate the perfect team for each client.

Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner? While there have been many influencers along the way, three people have helped propel me to my current role. The first is Howard Lewis, co-founder of Pathman Lewis, who trusted me as a young attorney to run with significant projects while working hand-in-hand with him. The second is Al Dotson, managing partner of Bilzin Sumberg, who has helped shaped my approach to the law and has helped me instill a great deal of confidence in myself. Lastly, Jay Sakalo, partner and practice group leader of Bilzin Sumberg’s business finance and restructuring and corporate practice, has been a great mentor to me and has helped evolve my philosophy of welcoming others to provide suggestions and even criticism with an open mind.

What is the best piece of advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner? My best piece of advice is to welcome criticism and volunteer for responsibility. This shows self-accountability and initiative, which is an important step for growing into any role. I also encourage others to expand their network. I have had the opportunity to do this as co-chair of the advisory board for the University of Miami School of Law Real Property Development LL.M. Program, which gives student attorneys a deeper dive into the more complex real-world legal aspects of real estate development. As a member of the program’s advisory board, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside our region’s most influential real estate leaders with a shared goal of preparing the next generation of real estate law practitioners.

How would you advise an associate to network at a time like this? Pick up the phone and talk to people. If you are unable meet with clients, meet with them over Zoom or talk to them over the phone. It’s essential to stay connected and show that you are there for them during a time like this. A simple call or text can go a long way.

What advice would you give to associates who wants to make partner now? It’s important to constantly analyze the way you are doing business and building relationships. Apply self-evaluation every day and challenge yourself to look at where you are and where you want to be. From there, force yourself to constantly learn new things.

What would you tell your younger self? Remember that this is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. A former colleague of mine, Marta Gonzalez, would always say, “Don’t get so caught up in the small things that, at the end of the day, will only distract you from achieving your ultimate goal.” Try to keep your eye on the bigger picture—both in the practice and in life.

What I wish I knew then? Don’t be afraid of challenges or be too critical of yourself. We tend to be overly hard on ourselves, and that can lead to unnecessary stress. The practice of law is thousands of steps. Even if you take one baby step forward one day, you still made progress in the right direction.

Press Release March 14, 2017
Managing Partner John C. Sumberg has been selected as one of the Distinguished Leaders in Law as part of the Daily Business Review's (DBR) Professional Excellence Awards. In addition, Albert E. Dotson, Jr., was chosen as one of three finalists for Attorney of the Year, and Javier F. Aviñ&oacu...
Press Release December 04, 2015
Bilzin Sumberg announces that five attorneys have been recognized by theDaily Business Reviewas "2015 Most Effective Lawyers" in the Government Relations and Public Interest categories. One legal team gains notice in theGovernment Relationscategory, another team earns accolades for its work in the a...
Press Release February 24, 2015
Bilzin Sumberg Cares partners with the Little Haiti Optimist Club for a day of community service. Little Haiti Optimist Club offers academic and athletic programming for the youth of Little Haiti. Over 100 volunteers from Bilzin Sumberg worked tirelessly painting murals, repainting the cafeteria and...