Glenn Hendrix
Glenn Hendrix (John Disney/Daily Report)

State mottoes tend to be trite, but Georgia’s—”wisdom, justice and moderation”—befits a state having a sophisticated and predictable legal regime supporting one of the world’s leading business centers. As former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young told a gathering of the Atlanta International Arbitration Society, “This is a city that admires reasonableness, and I think that’s your trump card.”

In the spirit of reasonableness and despite being charged with making the case for Atlanta over Miami, I’ll begin by noting that both Atlanta and Miami share a key advantage over other U.S. cities, such as New York, that are vying to host international arbitrations: They are located in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which can be fairly characterized as the most international arbitration-friendly court in the country.

The Eleventh is the only circuit to interpret the Federal Arbitration Act to eliminate domestic arbitration law as a basis for setting aside international arbitration awards rendered in the U.S. Instead, proceedings to set aside such awards are governed by certain U.N. Convention standards. Foreign companies contemplating arbitration in the U.S. will generally feel more comfortable with the familiar U.N. standards than with domestic standards, which do not always align with international norms.

Protectionist bar rules have doomed the efforts of other would-be international arbitration hubs, such as California. If the underlying contract is governed by, say, German law, the parties must be free to have German lawyers represent them. Georgia and Florida are among few states that allow parties to be represented in international arbitrations by non-U.S. lawyers. But here, Georgia has an edge. A recent American Bar Association report singles out Georgia as having the most open all-around regime for foreign-lawyer practice in the U.S.

Business Culture

Georgia and Florida also are among a small handful of states that have enacted a U.N. model international arbitration law. Here, too, Georgia has an edge. In an exercise of thoughtful collaboration between legislators, academics and the bar, Georgia did not simply adopt the model law verbatim but carefully excluded certain controversial provisions authorizing arbitrators to issue ex parte relief and incorporated a number of non-U.N. law provisions representing international best practices, such as allowing parties to opt out of certain grounds for judicial review of an award.

Atlanta and Miami offer excellent hearing facilities, including offices of the AAA and JAMS (and, in Atlanta, Henning), but the advantage is about to tip decidedly toward Atlanta. Next spring, at a downtown location convenient to the airport, Atlanta will open a state-of-the-art international arbitration center in a new $82.5 million building also housing the Georgia State University College of Law.

Designed by GSU professor Doug Yarn (a former director of the AAA’s Center for International Commercial Disputes), it incorporates the best features of other leading centers and will be one of the world’s premier arbitration facilities.

International arbitrations tend to be seated in highly accessible crossroads cities to which counsel, arbitrators, parties, experts and fact witnesses can easily converge. While Miami has more Latin American routes, Atlanta has the overall edge. It is home to the busiest passenger airport in the world, with almost 2,500 flights coming and going every day.

Atlanta also has the advantage of being a major corporate headquarters city, with many of the world’s largest companies governing their transactions and affairs according to a well-developed body of Georgia commercial law, and a local bar experienced in handling some of the world’s most complex transactions and disputes.

Parties arbitrating in Atlanta will rarely find themselves in the local courts, but if they do, the judicial system mirrors the local business culture in terms of transparency and dedication to a level playing field.

Global Brands

No city tops Atlanta in its capacity to marshal business, civic and political coalitions in the pursuit of an objective. Witness the campaign for the 1996 Olympic Games. The commitment to an international arbitration-friendly environment is shared by key stakeholders in state and local government, chambers of commerce, academia and the legal community. A supportive, business-minded Legislature has steered clear of enacting any version of the anti-foreign law bills recently adopted by several states, including Florida (albeit in a form covering only family matters).

Both cities have strong global brands, but Miami’s is Latin America-focused, while Atlanta’s is more multidimensional, building from several Atlanta institutions—including the Carter Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, CARE and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights—which serve as beacons of hope and support for those struggling for human rights and dignity all over the world.

In the words of Ambassador Young: “Atlanta is Arbitration Central. The home of Coca-Cola, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Jimmy Carter has a century of experience in conflict resolution of every type.” Atlanta’s global outlook also is manifested in world-class academic institutions, the international reach of CNN and an extensive network of bilateral business ties reflected in the 65 countries represented by a consulate, trade office or binational chamber of commerce.

Traditions of Southern hospitality continue in Atlanta, which is a magnet for in-migration. Most Atlantans were born elsewhere, including approximately 750,000 foreign-born residents. The resulting multicultural mosaic makes for a vibrant nightlife, a spirited music scene and a diverse offering of dining options.

Granted, Miami has beaches (Yes, I’ll admit to some beach envy), but let’s be real. If you’re in the middle of an arbitration, how much time are you going to spend at the beach? Beaches couldn’t keep LeBron James in Miami, and they shouldn’t dictate where to seat a bet-the-farm arbitration, either.

So which venue is better, Atlanta or Miami?

In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all arbitral seat. An ideal venue for one party or dispute will be a poor choice for another. Miami has many strengths as an arbitral forum, including deep economic and cultural ties to Latin America which make it especially well-suited for Latin America-related disputes; Atlanta is the more versatile option for a wider range of matters.