Carlos Mendez-Peñate, cohead of the Latin America practice at Akerman, was 9 years old when his family fled Cuba for the United States just after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. His father, a lawyer, left behind a practice at what was then one of the country’s most elite firms, almost exclusively serving U.S. clients with investments in Cuba.

Now, more than 50 years later, Mendez-Peñate is in some ways picking up where his father left off. The New York-based Akerman partner wants to be one of the dozens of private U.S. lawyers to get in on the opening of formal trade relations between the United States and Cuba. He is fielding phone calls from eager clients, escorting them to Cuba and interpreting the nitty-gritty regulatory details of a vast policy shift from President Barack Obama.