Smith, Gambrell & Russell started 2018 by opening an office in Los Angeles as a gateway to Asia, and it’s ending the year by launching a Miami office as a gateway to Latin America.
The Atlanta-based firm has recruited an international aviation finance team from Greenberg Traurig to launch the office, led by partner Jeffrey Tenen with another partner, Israel Sanchez, and counsel Ellen Fontanella, who is licensed to practice in New York and Brazil.
Tenen and Sanchez headed Miami-based Greenberg’s global aircraft equipment finance and leasing practice.
Smith Gambrell’s chairman, Stephen Forte, said the Miami office, which opened Dec. 1, builds on the firm’s marquee transportation finance practice, which serves clients around the world. “This deepens what we do in the aircraft world and the transportation finance industry,” he said. “It opens the door to Latin America.”
He declined to name any of the Miami team’s clients, but said there is some overlap with clients that Smith Gambrell already does work for, including airlines and aircraft lessors. The group’s work includes aircraft finance and leasing, cross-border structured lending and asset-based financing transactions.
“These are good lawyers whom we know and have worked with for a few years,” Forte said.
Smith Gambrell’s transportation finance law clients have broadened over the years beyond airlines and aircraft lessors to include railroads; aviation equipment owners, managers and investors; financiers; aviation joint ventures; repair facilities; and teardown companies.
The Miami team “fits perfectly with our global platform in aviation and the broader international transportation sectors,” Forte said. “We seek to capitalize on the city’s international accessibility and diverse business climate.”
Smith Gambrell, which marks its 125th anniversary this year, has rapidly expanded into new locations in global cities over the past few years. The Miami office is its 10th—and the fifth that the 225-lawyer firm has launched in the last two years.
Smith Gambrell opened a Los Angeles office at the beginning of the year—its first on the West Coast—through a combination with business law boutique Rodi Pollock Pettker Christian & Pramov. That followed the opening of three European offices in 2017, in London, Southampton and Munich, and the expansion of its New York office by acquiring Manhattan boutique Balber Pickard Maldonado & Van Der Tuin.
The U.K. offices also expanded Smith Gambrell’s aviation finance law capabilities, giving it a global footprint. With the Miami practitioners, its transport finance practice has about 30 lawyers in the U.K., New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
“We are playing to where our clients are and our strategic practices—and trying to build from there,” said Forte of the firm’s aggressive expansion into new cities. “The international focus and the transportation focus are key to us. We can’t confine ourself to one market.”
But the firm is being careful about where it plants new flags, Forte added. “It’s not just geography—it’s a play to our major practices. We do not need to be everywhere, but we do need to be in key markets.”