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When Greenberg Traurig lawyers helped Mexican beverage company Panamaco relocate its headquarters to South Florida, they assisted the firm’s executives in finding schools for their children, obtaining visas for their nannies, and even getting their pets through customs. To snag Latin American and Caribbean business, Steel Hector & Davis hired former ambassadors and economists as members of its international law group to tap their network of contacts. With no promise of being paid, the chairman of Shutts & Bowen’s executive committee spent the better part of a year drafting and lobbying for legislation that would allow insurers to sell policies to foreigners visiting the United States — all on speculation that a paying client would turn up. South Florida’s international lawyers are changing the way they practice, acting as legal concierges and providing an array of business services to their clients. It’s all part of their aggressive effort to become serious players in international legal services and get a piece of the business that law firms based in New York and Washington, D.C., previously monopolized. “Latin American and Mexican clients are becoming more and more comfortable here in Miami because of the language and culture,” said Marty Steinberg, managing partner of the Miami office of Hunton & Williams. “It’s the same way Hong Kong is for Asians. They don’t just want their second homes here, they want their businesses here. Miami is definitely becoming a bigger player on the scene.” Even in commercial disputes that have no U.S. involvement, Latin American and Caribbean companies increasingly are choosing Miami as a forum to resolve their disputes, international law experts say. Many international law practitioners and arbitrators say South Florida would get a big boost if the 34 nations negotiating the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement chose Miami to be the site of the FTAA secretariat and the FTAA’s arbitration center. Nearly all the major South Florida-based law firms, particularly those in Miami, now have international law practice groups. Their lawyers have many things in common. They speak at least two languages. They travel constantly. Many serve on business boards, such as the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce, Florida FTAA Inc. and the Beacon Council. But there are key differences in the types of work they handle. ENERGY, BANKING, AMBASSADORS Miguel Zaldivar and Jose Valdivia, partners in the Miami office of Hogan & Hartson, a 100-year-old New York firm, mostly handle high-end, complex energy project deals and expansions in Latin America. Valdivia recently handled a $50 million bond offering by Central American Bottling Corp., a Guatemalan company. He beat out a cadre of New York law firms for the job even though “the underwriter had a prejudice for New York,” Valdivia said. His office also recently represented Mexican state-owned Pemex Petrochemical in helping attract foreign investors to build a $2 billion industrial complex. Pemex took the unusual step of asking its Miami lawyers to recommend a team of business consultants — rather than hiring the consultants and asking the lawyers to work with them. The Hogan & Hartson attorneys hired Charles Rivers & Associates of Boston. The lawyers and the consultants jointly developed a brochure to present to investors and personally paid visits to investors in Monaco, Spain, Germany, France and Canada. Out of a dozen investors visited, seven were interested and made bids. “That was the first time we ever hired business consultants,” Zaldivar said. In contrast, Shutts & Bowen’s international practice concentrates on international banking and finance. It represents foreign banks with a Florida presence and lobbies the state government for expanded investment opportunities for non-U.S. residents visiting or living here. Bowman Brown, chairman of the firm’s executive committee, worked on a bill that would make it easier for insurers to sell life and annuity policies to foreign nationals by sharply reducing the red tape and fees required by the state. Brown hopes the many unbillable hours he spent on that project will pay off with future clients. If the measure passes into law next year, it’s expected to bring $2 billion into Florida annually, through new jobs and business, he said. Some firms are hiring former ambassadors and international trade officials to generate business from foreign countries and from U.S. companies interested in cultivating international relationships. While law firms in Washington have been doing this for years, Hunton & Williams was the first to do it in Miami. In 2001, the firm hired Luis Lauredo, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, a Clinton appointee. Lauredo has proven invaluable to the firm because of his knowledge of Latin American governments and leaders, and he has generated new business, Steinberg said. “A lot of clients really need a consultant to take them through the thicket of the governments of a multitude of countries,” he said. “Everyone south of the border knows [Lauredo].” Steel Hector & Davis jumped on that bandwagon in 2002, hiring V. Manuel Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, also a Clinton appointee. Rocha left the firm last month, however, to start his own business development business. Donna Hrinak, former U.S. ambassador to Brazil and a career diplomat who received appointments from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, will fill his shoes. She joined Steel Hector in July. Hrinak, who speaks four languages, talked to law firms and companies after deciding to leave public service. She said she picked Steel Hector because, after meeting the firm’s partners while posted in Venezuela, she found that “this was a firm that saw the importance” of the Western Hemisphere. She also was impressed that the firm had a number of offices around Latin America. Hrinak sees her job as Steel Hector’s senior counselor for international trade and government affairs as an extension of her diplomatic posts. “I’ll basically be doing what I’ve done for the last 10 years as an ambassador — looking for opportunities, advocating for values of free markets and free competition.” Will she be lobbying the U.S. government? “Absolutely,” she said without missing a beat. “Lobby is not a four-letter word.” Similarly, Miami-based Greenberg Traurig has a former U.S. ambassador to Panama, Ambler Moss, a Carter and Reagan appointee, as an of counsel attorney. Greenberg also has on its roster another former high-level international player, James Bacchus, an Orlando-based partner who serves as co-chair of the firm’s global trade practice group. Bacchus, a former congressman, is back with Greenberg after an eight-year stint as an appellate judge of the World Trade Organization. Bacchus said his background and contacts translate into business for Greenberg because “it gives us insight into the world economy. It gives us a unique understanding of how global trade works. I will try to continue to expand our trade practice and our global trade practice group.” But some attorneys question whether hiring former ambassadors and trade officials really produces lucrative new business for law firms. Victor Alvarez, managing partner of the Miami office of New York-based White & Case, said, “The jury is still out on it. It’s easy for people to dismiss it as smoke and mirrors. Strategically, it makes a lot of sense to do it, for help with cross-border trade issues. Ambassadors have a great deal to offer.” Another top Miami international lawyer, who did not want to be identified, scoffed at the trend. “We don’t have any ambassador-marketers, and we don’t want any,” this lawyer said. “Our clients are sophisticated enough to know that they need an international banking lawyer. A couple firms are loading up with ambassadors, they seem to think it’s a great idea. I’m skeptical. It’s window dressing.” Shankar Singham, chair of Steel Hector’s international practice, defended his firm’s hiring of former ambassadors. “We do not only use our ambassadors as door-openers,” he said. “Rather, we are interested in them for their substantive skills developed over a lifetime in the foreign service. Our skill sets differ, but the skills of government professionals and lawyers complement perfectly in the international trade and competition area.” FOREIGN OFFICES Another way South Florida law firms have attracted and serviced international clients has been to open offices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost a decade ago, Steel Hector pioneered this approach by opening offices in Caracas, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Santo Domingo. The firm recently added an office in Buenos Aires. White & Case opened a Sao Paulo office seven years ago and now has a large office in Mexico City. Fort Lauderdale-based Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell, a relative newcomer to Latin America, opened a Caracas office two years ago. But it’s expensive to open a foreign office: Law firm managers say it can cost more than $1 million. And there is often strong resistance from local law firms and bar associations in other countries, which are anxious to protect their business from foreign rivals. Some countries, such as Brazil, have strict rules limiting what U.S. lawyers can do in their countries. That’s why many U.S. firms enter into partnerships with local firms rather than opening and staffing their own offices. Hunton & Williams uses that approach. “We’ve opted to have strong partnerships in Latin America,” Steinberg said. “That’s the way business is done down there. We don’t want to be viewed as competitors.” But White & Case prefers to staff its own foreign offices to maintain control of its “product.” “It’s a very expensive, very time-consuming long-term investment that you’re going to make if you establish a presence in a foreign country,” Alvarez said. “It’s not something to be taken lightly. [Partnering with a local firm] is a lower-cost way of going, but we wanted to ensure there’s a consistent White & Case standard product around the world.” Akerman Senterfitt is one firm that has expressed no interest in opening its own offices in Latin America. Instead, it has a network of affiliated local law firms throughout the region. “This way, the capital outlay and administrative costs are limited,” said Burton Landy, an Akerman partner who has been called the dean of international law in South Florida. “It’s pretty hard to have an office in multiple locations and be able to monitor and make sure the quality is the very best it can be.” Its lack of Latin American offices doesn’t mean that Akerman isn’t going after Latin American business. The firm recently launched a U.S. relocation and investment practice group. It’s a 20-lawyer unit focused on assisting the growing number of Latin American clients deciding to relocate their headquarters to the Miami area. In conjunction with that, the firm also is producing a 45-page “2005 U.S. Relocation and Investment Guide,” printed in English and Spanish. The guide will be distributed to businesses throughout Latin America, said Brian Garcia, co-chair of the new group. Some rival firms, however, call Akerman’s new group and guide marketing hype. “A relocation guide — that’s something we do every day here at Greenberg Traurig,” Bacchus scoffed. Brian Garcia, co-chair of Akerman’s new group, didn’t dispute that the plan is marketing-driven. “We’re trying to market the group and market the firm,” he acknowledged. Still, Akerman is hardly the only firm to rely on marketing and public relations to assist its international practices and clients. Steel Hector’s Singham said that publicly communicating its clients’ positions on trade issues is a major part of his firm’s role. “Many of the issues are fought in the media,” he said. “These are essentially trade issues or competition issues — protection is given to some local industry or market. We need to be able to make arguments as to why the market is very important.” SEMINARS HELP Another method employed by law firms to boost their international business is to hold trade and business seminars in foreign countries, encouraging companies there to do business in or move to Florida. The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s official economic development organization, often co-sponsors the seminars. Next year, Greenberg Traurig will be holding a joint seminar with the Beacon Council in the Netherlands, where the firm recently opened an office. And Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff, which has in recent years been attempting to expand its international profile, co-sponsored a mission with the Beacon Council in Asia. The Beacon Council provides companies moving to Miami-Dade County a list of law firms that are council members. The group helped 44 companies, including 19 foreign firms, relocate to Miami last year. “When we sit down with these companies, it becomes evident they need legal advice,” said Mario Sacasa, senior vice president for international economic development for the Beacon Council. “They want to know how to form a corporation here. There are a lot of legal aspects to consider, including issues of immigration and taxes. Plus, the companies need to know about all the incentives available to them.” One advantage for South Florida law firms in going after international business is that Miami has gained a reputation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as an international arbitration center. Many business contracts specify that disputes must be resolved through arbitration and that the parties agree on where the arbitration will take place. Miami is a common choice. Experts say a decision to locate the FTAA secretariat and arbitration center in Miami would be a huge boon to international law practice. A decision by the 34 nations on where to locate the secretariat is expected this year, and Miami is a top contender. To promote Miami as the FTAA headquarters site, Akerman’s Landy has gone on lobbying expeditions to Peru. Both Singham and Steel Hector chairman and managing partner Joseph P. Klock Jr. sit on the Florida FTAA Inc. board. Laredo was one of the chief organizers of the FTAA conference last November. LONG WAY TO GO Despite all these efforts, South Florida-based law offices have a long way to go to catch up to their rivals in New York, Washington and London in the international law arena, the experts say. Miami also faces stiff competition from law firms in Houston and California. Some observers say South Florida firms get the nod generally when parties have geographic ties to this area. “What we’re seeing a lot of is Latin Americans investing in Florida and Floridians investing in Latin America,” Alvarez said. “But there has to be that nexus with Florida.” Philip von Mehren, an international lawyer at Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle in New York and former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s transactional legal practice committee, agrees with that assessment. “There is still great cachet in having New York lawyers on a deal,” said von Mehren, who recently assisted Verizon in the $2 billion acquisition of a Puerto Rican telephone company. “All the investment banks are here. Where Miami can excel is with wealth asset management.” Even if the FTAA headquarters ends up in another country, Miami has come a long way in the last two decades, said Keith Rosenn, a professor of international law at the University of Miami. “When I first came here in 1980, international law mostly consisted of immigration work and hiding money in the Caribbean for international clients,” Rosenn said. “The lawyers I knew spent less than 50 percent of their time in international work and could not really make a go of it.” “But in the last couple of years, a number of the Miami firms are really taking on more of an international flavor,” he said. “They’re doing more significant kinds of international transactions and litigation. Miami is really getting on the international map.”

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