By David Lyons
From a 35th-floor conference room in a Brickell Avenue office building, lawyers from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean sipped cocktails and took in a commanding view of neighborhood high-rises, Biscayne Bay, PortMiami and the Atlantic Ocean. They were visiting the Miami office of the Gunster law firm for one purpose: to attend a U.S. meeting of Globalaw, a worldwide network of business law firms. The 130-year-old Gunster firm, which is based West Palm Beach, is the world alliance’s Florida representative.
Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, chairman of the firm, hosted a combined “Caribbean and LATAM Forum” that focused on strategies, risks and business opportunities among the island nations and all points south.
Juan Kuryla, director of PortMiami, got to pitch his sprawling cruise and cargo port as “a global gateway for trade, commerce and tourism.”
“I thought the port director did a wonderful job describing the dynamism of the Miami economy and the factors that contributed to it,” says Bryan C. Birkeland, an energy, real estate and international law specialist from Dallas, who is the current Globalaw president and a co-founder. “He laid out the facts and historical perspective of the development of the port. I was particularly interested because I am very familiar with Miami and its position as a capital of the Americas from an economic standpoint, but I wasn’t aware of the logistics component of it.”
A panel of lawyers and business officials from SBA Communications, Sabadell’s global corporate banking unit, the Dutch Caribbean Securities Exchange, a Brazilian law firm and a Danish consulting firm all gave their takes on the advantages and vagaries of doing business in Latin America and in Florida.
It was all good intelligence for a network of lawyers and law firms who count on one another to drum up international business. The alliance, they say, offers a collective confidence that Globalaw-affiliated attorneys from far-flung areas of the globe are competent and knowledgeable enough to serve their respective clients well.
“It’s wonderful organization for us because a lot of our clients are doing business around the world and we can put them with a fine lawyer,” LeMieux says. “I have had this experience personally where we needed legal work in Europe, and I can find a lawyer who can work with our clients and I know they’re going to get first-class legal work.”
Birkeland says the alliance has grown from a group of three U.S. law firms and a single Austrian firm in 1993 to a present-day network of 111 law firms and 4,500 lawyers located in 165 cities and 85 nations. “We’re looking for firms that have real history in their country,” he says.
For example, the senior partner of a member firm from Bolivia once led his country’s central bank; the father of a top partner in a Panamanian firm is a former vice president of Panama; and a fifth-generation partner of a firm in Argentina is eager to do international business now that the nation is “on the verge of getting back into the world” with the election of a new president.