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Undaunted by the volatility of distressed regions, a Miami law firm has decided to set up shop in Beirut, Lebanon, despite continuing violence in the Middle East. Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel apparently whetted its appetite for doing business amid economic and political turmoil when it opened an office in Argentina in March, where a protracted recession has thrust the nation’s business sector and government into chaos. The firm also has plans to open an office in Caracas, Venezuela where just two months ago President Hugo Chavez was ousted in a brief coup d’etat, only to be returned to office days later by military loyalists and popular unrest. The firm plans to start business in Beirut the middle of June. As in Buenos Aires, Ferrell Schultz intends to partner with a local firm. “We are targeting areas with well-established upper classes and institutions where economic or political crisis makes the U.S. — and Miami, specifically — an attractive place for the movement of people and money,” said Joseph I. Zumpano, managing partner of Ferrell Schultz, a fast-growing 60-attorney law firm. Two relationships were key to firm chairman Milton M. Ferrell Jr.’s foray into the Middle East. For more than a decade, Ferrell has known Muhammad Al-Fayad, the Egyptian mogul who owns Harrods of London, and whose son, Dodi, died in the Paris car wreck that also claimed the life of England’s Princess Diana. According to Ferrell, Al-Fayad introduced him to the region. “He got me interested in the area. That really focused my attention,” said Ferrell, who said he started to seriously consider doing business in the region two years ago. Three years ago, Ferrell also met Sheikh Ahmad Naser Al-Sabah, a member of the Kuwaiti royal family. The two developed a relationship while working on the board of Dallas-based petroleum company, Isotag. Since then, Ferrell said, he has done considerable business for Al-Sabah. Last week, while in the Middle East to oversee plans for the new Beirut office, Ferrell took a side trip to Kuwait to visit Al-Sabah. According to Ferrell, the move into Lebanon will make Ferrell Schultz the first U.S. law firm to establish an office in Beirut. For two years, Ferrell Schultz has been engaged in a rapid expansion. In 2000, the firm had 12 attorneys; now it has 60, and Ferrell says he will likely hire more. Last month, the firm made news when it hired away trial attorney Jon Zeder, former name partner of Coconut Grove, Fla.-based Adorno & Zeder (now Adorno & Yoss). Ferrell Schultz has expanded from its posh penthouse offices in the Miami Center to also lease space on the 28th and 31st floors of the downtown office building. It has branched into 14 different practice areas, from labor and intellectual property to health and tax law. The firm, which recently acquired an Aventura law firm specializing in immigration, is also planning to open an office in Nassau, Bahamas. This growth, according to Zumpano, has been financed by the firm’s revenues, which, he said, have tripled during the past two years. The strategic model that Ferrell Schultz is implementing, which is unique in Miami, is to open offices in commercial centers in regions that are experiencing turmoil but have a history of prosperity. Ferrell notes that Lebanon’s history as the legal and banking capital of the Middle East makes Beirut attractive despite a vicious civil war that wracked the nation through 1990 and the ongoing violence just south of the country in Israel. By establishing a foothold in a commercial hub like Beirut, he hopes to profit from trade conducted by wealthy individuals and corporations between the U.S. and the Middle East — and also Turkey and Greece. “We want to capture the stream of commerce between commercial hubs and the U.S.,” said Zumpano. But Ferrell is careful to point out that the firm knows its limits. “We are not interested in practicing Lebanese law,” said Ferrell. “Instead, like in Argentina, we are partnering with a firm to provide legal services in the country and then we provide legal service on U.S. law.” The Ferrell Schultz office in Beirut, like all of its international offices, will serve as a feeder office staffed with representatives who will direct clients either to its Lebanese law firm partner or to the appropriate lawyer in Miami. To serve Middle East clients from its Miami office, the firm has hired a Lebanese lawyer who has been practicing in Paris. He declined to disclose her name, but said she will start work in Miami this fall. In order to strengthen ties with its partner law firms, Ferrell said that lawyers in Miami will be rotated through the Beirut office, as they will be in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. Ferrell Schultz has partnered with the law firm Allende & Brea in Argentina. Ferrell said his firm has reached agreement with a Lebanese firm but said he will announce the firm’s name at a later date. Ferrell said he plans to return to Beirut in a month to oversee the opening of the office.

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