Communicating and staying engaged with the firm’s attorneys and consultants around the country is both the greatest opportunity and biggest challenge for Cecelia Bonifay, chairman of Akerman’s Land Use and Development Practice. Although many view land use and development as being a local practice, what she has found in leading the practice group is that issues and trends transcend various localities and geographic markets. The firm also shares clients, and although the specific services it provides may vary from market to market, the issue or subject matter is the same.
“We have one client for whom we’re doing work in Miami and New York,” she explained. “The process to achieve the client’s goal was different in each locale given the state and local law, but the outcome was the same — have local legislation adopted which allowed the client to develop micro units either as very small single family units in Miami or an apartment product in Chicago.”
Although there are obvious challenges in her job, Bonifay is crystal clear about one thing: She absolutely loves what she does. The fact her practice group is involved in all sectors of the real estate market — residential (both single and multi-family) as well as office, retail and industrial — means they get to work on projects that constantly change.
“Many times we’re part of a larger team of attorneys and stay engaged throughout the life of the deal. In some instances, we’re doing the land use and entitlement due diligence for a potential buyer so they can determine whether or not they want to purchase a property. We represent clients that vary in size — from the individual owner to large corporations.”
Bonifay always looks forward to new projects and solving issues for clients. As part of the Firm Management team, she enjoys seeing how far they have come over the years in terms of growth and the ability to hire some of the best and brightest legal talent.
Many of her clients are engaged in organizations, such as the Urban Land Institute, in which she has participated for many years and that has as its mission the wise and productive use of land and the creation of sustainable communities. “By understanding best management practices in the various areas of development, we’re helping our clients create interesting and lasting elements of the community,” she said. “We have some exciting projects underway in Central Florida, which not only are creating great places to live, work and play, but also creating jobs and enhancing the region’s economic growth.”
Bonifay believes being a woman helps her to be more empathetic with clients, as well as the many other professionals, consultants and government officials one encounters in the development process. Having grown up in the panhandle of Florida, she learned early on that to get along with the good ole boys, you better know how to be a good ole girl!
She credits having had the benefit of employers who were not only great individuals, but also great mentors who gave her the ability to utilize her skills and be rewarded for exhibiting initiative. “Yet they were supportive and had my back when things didn’t always go as planned,” she added. “A supportive husband and partner has allowed me to work long hours, travel for my job and avoid learning how to cook!”