Celebrating 50 years of GrayRobinson: A straight line of success to Charlie Gray
GrayRobinson chairman emeritus Charl;ie Grey helps celebrate the firm's 50th anniversary.

Champagne bottle holiday template
"I know we will have a bright future.”

In 1970, before there was Disney World or Interstate 4, four lawyers in not-all-that-big Orlando teamed up to create what has now become the GrayRobinson law firm, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday.

Today, Orlando is the third most-visited city in the U.S. And GrayRobinson’s stats aren’t all that bad either: 262 lawyers and lobbyists, offices in Washington, D.C., and 14 Florida cities from Tallahassee to Key West, one of the state’s top-billing lobbying practices, and a slew of honors for the firm and individual attorneys.

But GrayRobinson’s Managing Partner, President and CEO Dean Cannon draws a straight line for today’s success right back to the man he considers a mentor, founding partner and chairman emeritus Charlie Gray.

“Literally, as a first-year lawyer, I remember thinking ‘Man, I’d like to be like that Charlie Gray guy when I grow up,’” Cannon reflected. “He’s a great lawyer, but he’s also politically connected and active in the community.”

Within 18 months, Cannon would join GrayRobinson, working in the same department with Gray beginning in 1995.

“He introduced me to this concept — which I think is one of our great strengths — first, you’ve got to be a great technical expert, and there’s also a natural kinship between law, politics, and community participation. That’s true at the local level, the state level, and the federal level,” Cannon said.

When he wanted to run for the state House in 2004, his firm supported him. “Most law firms when they have young lawyers who want to run for the Legislature say: ‘That’s great. But I don’t know what you’re gonna do for a living because you can’t work here.’ GrayRobinson said, ‘OK, we’ll support you. You’re going to have to take a reduced salary and hours commitment, but we will support you.’”

Cannon would serve from 2004 to 2012, spending his last two years as Speaker of the House. “Charlie believed the firm should support lawyers who wanted to take a hiatus from private practice and serve in government, whether it was as a lawyer, staff, elected official, or judge.”

The firm has seen robust growth over the last 25 years, much of it fueled by the acquisition of established firms in other communities throughout the state, a practice Cannon calls “a big part of our success.” One of those acquisitions was Cannon’s Tallahassee-based lobbying practice in 2016, bringing him back into the GrayRobinson fold.

“Charlie’s mantra was, ‘you build your community, you build your firm,’” he said. “As we grew beyond Orlando, we looked for lawyers and law firms with similar philosophies in their own communities. Charlie always said that we should first be great lawyers, but it’s important for our lawyers also to get involved in the civic, business, political, and social activities of the community because that’s where relationships are built, and personal relationships are the foundation for good business relationships.”

In September 2019, Cannon took on his current role in the firm. “It’s been a heck of a year,” he said, referring to the challenges of leading the firm during the coronavirus pandemic. “I feel like I got thrown into the deep end of the pool.”

Because of the foresight of his predecessor, Mayanne Downs, partners were already equipped with “robust and secure laptops and IT resources,” and were able to pivot to almost 500 employees working from home within six days. “When Mayanne enhanced our disaster preparedness and upgraded the IT infrastructure, we were thinking more along the lines of hurricanes, not pandemics,” he said, “but it was a great thing she did.” The changeover to remote work “wasn’t perfect, but it was amazingly effective.”

When life gets back to normal, Cannon said GrayRobinson and the practice of law won’t look or operate the same way. “I think definitely some of these changes will be permanent and for the better,” he said.

Even before the pandemic, one of his first initiatives as managing partner was to look at consolidating real estate and shrinking the footprint in some offices. “The old-school, 1980s-era model was the more successful you were, the bigger office you had. Well, that’s completely out the window.”

Technological innovations also were changing the practice of law, for example, speeding up legal research and brief writing.

“COVID has only accelerated all of those focuses because, especially in a down economy, everyone’s looking for how to be more economically efficient,” he said. And because of the need for remote work, we’re all focusing on how we can be more physically efficient in doing what needs to be done.”

Cannon expects the courts to keep some of the adaptations adopted during the health crisis. “Hearings via video conference instead of in-person can save real-time,” he said. In the past, between driving to the courthouse, then waiting on security lines, “a 15 minute-hearing could take an hour and a half. Now a 15-minute hearing takes 15 minutes.”

Cannon credits its chairman emeritus and founding partner with creating the ethos that will carry GrayRobinson through the new millennium.

“Charlie Gray practiced with a great balance of strength and compassion, he combined fairness and firmness. He emphasized community-mindedness and agility,” Cannon said. “If you think about those things, that’s why we’ve done so well for 50 years. It’s baked into our DNA, and it’s why I feel so optimistic about the next 50 years. By continuing to embrace those cultural values in the firm, I know we will have a bright future.”

Rosanne Dunkelberger


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn