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When you’re an ambitious law firm leader interested in snagging wealthy clients, what would you do after two bombs explode in a major Latin American capital city? Open a new office there, of course. In its latest move to capture business associated with capital flight from distressed countries, Miami-based Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel has announced that it will open an office in strife-torn Caracas, the scene of a violent two-month strike aimed at ousting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. “We believe that Venezuela will soon have a significant crisis, much like Argentina a year ago,” explained Joseph I. Zumpano, the managing partner of 60-attorney Ferrell Schultz. “As the crisis deepens, South Florida is not only a venue that is attractive as a safe haven for many people but it is one that they are tremendously familiar with.” Zumpano anticipates that the problems there will generate significant immigration, corporate real estate, and tax work for his firm. For more than a year, Ferrell Schultz has been in the midst of frenzied expansion, during which it has opened offices in foreign cities including: Santiago, Chile; Nassau, Bahamas; Panama City, Panama and Beirut, Lebanon. One of its aims, Zumpano said, has been to open offices in economically distressed regions with ties to Miami and with a large base of wealthy people and companies that need legal services in a time of crisis. Last year, Ferrell Schultz opened an office in Buenos Aires after a protracted recession thrust Argentina’s business sector into chaos. Capitalizing on that nation’s economic plight, the firm conducted seminars there for wealthy business people. At these sessions, it touted immigration, real estate and corporate services for those interested in moving to or investing in the United States. Zumpano said the Buenos Aires office has proved highly successful for the firm, which had a total of only 12 attorneys in 2000. While Ferrell Schultz does not publish its earnings, Zumpano said that legal work coming out of Argentina now accounts for a quarter of the firm’s real estate business, about a quarter of its immigration business and a quarter of its international corporate work. He said the firm hopes to replicate that success in Venezuela. “We expect our business to be profitable there within the first six months,” he said. Ferrell Schultz will not be the only South Florida law firm in Caracas. Miami-based Steel Hector & Davis, and Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell in Fort Lauderdale also have offices there. But the move into Venezuela by Ferrell Schultz presents a security challenge it hasn’t faced in Argentina. On Sunday, Venezuela, with a population of 24 million, was hit by the third bombing attack in a week when a car bomb exploded in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, an important center of the country’s oil industry. Last week, the Spanish and Colombian embassies in Caracas were hit by pre-dawn bomb blasts that left five people injured. The bombing came after Chavez, who was briefly deposed in an aborted coup last year, criticized several nations for expressing concerns over the arrest of his political opponent, Carlos Fernandez. Due to security concerns, Zumpano was accompanied by six armed guards when he visited Caracas last week to finalize arrangements for the new office; he was whisked around the capital city in an armored vehicle. The firm also has decided that it will not rotate attorneys in its Miami headquarters through the Caracas office as it normally does with its other international outposts. “We are taking prudent precautions,” Zumpano said. “This is what many people would call battlefield law.” As it has done in its other international offices, Ferrell Schultz is partnering with a local firm in Caracas. The firm is the 20-attorney Villarroel Sierraalta, which is headed by Manuel Villarroel, a former president of the International Red Cross. But Zumpano and the firm’s chairman, Milton M. Ferrell Jr. stress that they don’t want to be viewed as opportunists capitalizing on other countries’ misery. They insist they are making a long-term commitment to the regions they enter. “The very purpose of our model is not to profit off other people’s tragedy,” Zumpano said. “We believe there is nothing wrong with helping clients in a time of crisis and being paid well to do so.” “One of the things that is important to us is to offer representation in good times and bad,” Ferrell said by phone from Chile. “I have great confidence that Venezuela will emerge in time and resolve this political crisis.” Speaking of crisis, Ferrell Schultz currently is considering opening an office in Kuwait, Iraq’s southern neighbor, Ferrell said.

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