SL7 Interview’s Fred Leonhardt of GrayRobinson

Fred Leonhardt
Fred Leonhardt

Fred Leonhardt heads GrayRobinson’s government relations practice spanning the law firm’s 12 offices across the state of Florida. GrayRobinson consistently ranks among the top revenue earning government relations practices in the state. Fred has a long history of civic and community service. He is the former chair of the Florida Chamber, Floridians for Better Transportation and Leadership Florida. He has served or serves on the board of directors of Florida Council of 100, Enterprise Florida, Associated Industries of Florida, James Madison Institute, Orlando Area Chamber of Commerce and Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission.

SLEVIN: HOW MANY LAWYERS AND LOBBYISTS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE WORKING IN YOUR GOVERNMENT RELATIONS PRACTICE? WHAT IS IT ABOUT GRAYROBINSON THAT’S DIFFERENT FROM MORE TRADITIONAL LOBBYING PRACTICES IN FLORIDA?

LEONHARDT: GrayRobinson currently has about a dozen professionals fully employed in state level government relations. I believe we are unique because of the “full service” law firm aspect that we offer our clients. GrayRobinson is, by any measure, a top lobbying firm in Florida. However, it is the only one at that level which is also a full service business law firm with the capabilities of 300+ lawyers in nearly every practice area that our government relations clients might have needs. At any time during the government relations process we can call upon this talented “bench” to provide support and analysis that, in a traditional lobbying-only practice, simply would not exist. It is a value-add that sets our firm apart for our clients.

Fred Leonhardt
Fred Leonhardt

SLEVIN: WHAT IS IT ABOUT GR THAT ATTRACTS POTENTIAL CLIENTS FOR BOTH YOUR GOVERNMENT AND CORPORATE RELATIONS PRACTICES?

LEONHARDT: Top 10 reasons clients are attracted to GrayRobinson’s Government and Corporate Relations practice:
10. Longevity. The firm is almost 50 years old. We’re not going away, and look forward to the next 50 years.
9. Stability. The firm has very little turnover in its senior leadership team. This gives GrayRobinson exceptional institutional knowledge, perspective and history.
8. Fee structure. The firm receives great reviews from clients and professional law firm consultants about the “fairness and reasonableness” of its fee structure.
7. Collegiality. In spite of its growth, the firm has maintained the internal small firm collegiality which was so important to its founders.
6. Work ethic. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. GrayRobinson professionals are willing to “burn the midnight oil”, spend weekends and holidays if necessary, to help deal with client matters of significance. We strive to meet deadlines, return calls promptly, and move things along to resolution.
5. Community builders. Founder Charlie Gray always said, “If you help build your community, your community will help you build your law practice.” GrayRobinson has professionals leading chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, economic development organizations, religious groups, Boy Scout troops, and other community organizations.
4. All about Florida. GrayRobinson is the largest Florida only law firm with 12 offices, 300 lawyers and numerous other non-lawyer professionals, give us full coverage in all parts of the sunshine state.
3. Relationships. The firm works to develop relationships with all that come into contact with the firm in any context. Whether it’s the senior partner meeting with the CEO, or the delivery clerk dealing with the courthouse receptionist, the firm recognizes that all people are important and play a role in making our state work. We treat people with respect.
2. Diversity. The firm has members from all different aspects of Florida’s diverse culture.
1. Professionals who care. The firm has managed to attract professionals who serve not only as lawyers, counselors and lobbyists, but also trusted advisors, mentors, friends and role models. The quality of our people is clearly our number one asset.

SLEVIN: IN ONE OF OUR RECENT CONVERSATIONS, YOU HAD MENTIONED HOW GR’S 12 OFFICES AND LOCAL LAWYERS GIVE YOU AN IMPRESSIVE GRASSROOTS NETWORK OF IN-HOUSE THOUGHT LEADERS. HOW IMPORTANT IS GRASSROOTS LOBBYING IN LOCAL MARKETS WHEN IT COMES TO PUSHING OR KILLING LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS IN TALLAHASSEE?

LEONHARDT: This is really about branding. In an age of term limits every firm is trying to foster relationships early in a legislator’s career. As they grow into leadership the relationship is strong for the benefit of clients. Having a recognizable brand in every major population center around the State gives our clients a distinct advantage. When we show up to lobby a legislator in Tallahassee, they may not personally know us (yet), but they know the GR brand and usually have a favorable disposition toward our firm. GrayRobinson has a long-standing culture of community engagement/involvement started by our founding partners.

 

SLEVIN: I WANT TO EXPAND ON WHAT YOU SAID A BIT MORE. HAVE YOU SEEN AN INCREASING TREND FOR MORE PUBLIC RELATIONS AND GRASSROOTS ENGAGEMENT IN THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPACE? HOW DOES IT COMPLEMENT YOUR TRADITIONAL LOBBYING STRATEGIES AND TACTICS INSIDE THE CAPITOL?

LEONHARDT: Yes, public relations and grassroots engagement are now an important part of major issue management. What I have also seen is a recognition on the part of other large lobbying firms that have a network of offices and lobbyists around the State better serves their clients than being a one-location shop in Tallahassee. Other major firms are opening satellite offices that help grow relationships and business both in that market (local lobbying) and in Tallahassee for state needs. Imitation is the nicest form of flattery.

SLEVIN: NOW THAT WE ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ELECTION, HOW DO YOU EXPECT OUR RE-ELECTED GOVERNOR AND NEW LEGISLATIVE LEADERS TO WORK TOGETHER? WHAT PUBLIC POLICIES DO YOU FORESEE OR HOPE TO SEE TAKING A TOP-TIER PRIORITY IN THE 2015 SESSION?

LEONHARDT: Needless to say, I am very happy that we have re-elected Governor Scott and that we have also elected an outstanding group of legislators. Florida has been fortunate in that our elected leaders spend most of their time focusing on governing and making the big decisions required. We can worry about the 2016 elections after the 2016 session. I am expecting a lot of continuing attention on job creation and the economy by all of them. Making Florida a favorable place to work will be very important in all areas, including tort reform.

I know the Speaker is interested in water as a top priority. With the passage of Amendment One, I’m anticipating much discussion over the use of those resources and the best way to protect Florida’s environment and water quality. In addition to water, the Senate President will focus on higher education and health care, and he has the right background for those and other topics.

SLEVIN: HOW DID YOU GET INTO LOBBYING AND POLITICS?

LEONHARDT: When I was in high school a friend got elected to be “judge” of the student government. This was Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach. I liked it so much I ran for judge the following year and won. I got involved in student government and also enjoyed it. At University of Florida I was elected President of my fraternity, student senate and I helped candidates for Student Body President. One of them sent me to Tallahassee to lobby, even though I barely understood the concept. By joining Blue Key, I had the chance to meet legislative leadership during law school. When I was graduating from law school, an incoming Speaker of the House Hyatt Brown hired me to go to work for him. Eventually I left state government and went to work for private law firms, all of whom have had government relations and lobbying practices. It’s been very exciting.

SLEVIN: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE COLLEGE STUDENTS OR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS CONSIDERING A CAREER IN GOVERNMENT RELATIONS?

LEONHARDT: For college students or young professionals considering a career in government relations, I encourage you to get involved in your college or in the organizations in your community for young political activists. At the University of Florida I was very active in Blue Key. Many of the friends I made in that organization are still active in politics in Florida today. Certainly the things I learned in Florida Blue Key are being actively practiced today. There are organizations for young Republicans, young Democrats, Tiger Bay clubs, etc. Find candidates for student government offices or candidates in your community and help the ones you can believe in. Go to student Senate meetings even if you’re not in the Senate. Go to City Commission and County Commission meetings. One of the great things about open government is having access to these important deliberations. Start early and stick with it, you will become hooked on the process if you really like the government relations profession.

Thank you Fred for sharing your time with my readers.

You can follow Fred on Twitter @lobby4good

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Patrick Slevin heads SL7 Communications, an integrated public relations consulting firm. Over the last two-decades, Patrick has successfully engaged stakeholders as a Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate manager, national association regional director and international agency executive. His unique and diversified experience in political, corporate, government and agency communications offers clients a greater degree of efficacy in strategic counsel and campaign performance. He has developed and executed strategies, corporate campaigns and grassroots operations advancing the bottom line interests of clients in markets across the United States.

Patrick can be reached for a confidential inquiry at 850.597.0423 or email pslevin68@gmail.com.