Community Involvement & Pro Bono

The second day of The Academy highlighted a common theme attributable to the success of the professionals I have encountered: unwavering dedication to improving our community. Representative David Richardson is such an example. We had the pleasure to learn of Mr. Richardson’s contributions to the reform of Florida’s correctional system. His commitment and passion materialized into actual changes in the system. The attorneys at Bilzin Sumberg are no different; they have shared with us valuable insight into their careers and the choices that have lead them to success. Fueled by their desire to implement changes that would improve our beloved city, our attorneys have made a significant impact in Miami and forged valuable relationships along the way.

A significant part of the legal profession involves engaging with your community and developing your network. As such, Scott Baena, Brian Bilzin, Jennifer Junger, and Anthony De Yurre shared with us invaluable advice based on each of their unique networking strategies and experiences. Similar to the commitment necessary to impact your community, developing worthwhile relationships requires an investment of your time and efforts. As first-year associates, we are interested in refining our networking skills to ensure that we maximize the opportunities to expand our network. In our networking seminar, we learned of various opportunities and methods to develop valuable relationships based on the experiences of Bilzin Sumberg attorneys who are all at different stages in their careers. “Working a Room” involves taking a real interest in the discussion with individuals whom you want to learn more about, as well as a continuing desire to develop such relationships.

We concluded our second, eventful day of The Academy with happy hour at the SLS Brickell. We had the opportunity to catch up with the attorneys in our Recruiting Committee, as well as implement some of the networking strategies we learned. Scott Baena and Jay Sakalo shared with me some wonderful stories about the history of Bilzin Sumberg. The history of our firm zeroed in on many of the takeaways from our course offerings during day 2 of The Academy – making a meaningful impact on your community and cultivating relationships can lead to great success.

 

I can say with confidence that our first day as associates at Bilzin Sumberg was unique. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, Jenny and I started our careers at Bilzin Sumberg a week later than planned. Although this resulted in a lot of rescheduling of The Academy, it made for a very exciting beginning! Our first day focused on community, charity, and managing our time to maximize giving back to Miami as well as personal growth.

First, we met with members of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation who spoke to us on finding that cause that makes us “tick.” We talked about the values that motivate us and the multitude of ways that we can contribute to our city. They stressed the importance of finding an organization where we can both make a valuable impact and gain personal fulfillment and enjoyment.

Later we drove over to Goodwill Industries. I was astounded at what this organization has accomplished. Going beyond its mission of vocational training and placement of people with disabilities, the South Florida division of Goodwill has created several of its own businesses where intellectually and physically disabled people can work. We got to see this social entrepreneurialism in practice on our tour of the facility, where Goodwill employees make Army uniforms and assemble inserts for the Miami Herald. We also had the opportunity to talk with David Landsberg, the CEO of Goodwill South Florida, about the organization’s history and initiatives.

After we visited Goodwill, we headed to lunch at Soya & Pomodoro and met up with members of the Land Development & Government Relations practice group. After a delicious Italian lunch we walked over to the Brightline. We put on our boots, hardhats, gloves, vests, and goggles, and were ready to tour the construction site that will soon be the Miami hub for the high speed train connecting Miami to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. I had never been to a construction site before, and it was fascinating to see the bare bones of a major project from the inside. It is going to be absolutely incredible when it is completed, not to mention the convenience and innovation it will bring to Miami.

Our last meeting of the day was with Juan Martinez, Vice President/Chief Financial Officer of the Knight Foundation. He spoke to us about the plethora of incredible initiatives the foundation is a part of, from funding the arts to hiring and encouraging others to hire minority and women-owned investment banking firms. He explained that the Knight Foundation looks to invest in ideas and opportunities that will be a catalyst for more change. We learned that we can translate this to our own individual experience, by choosing to invest our time where there will be a big and lasting impact.

Although all were unique, each of the organizations we met with today taught two consistent lessons. First, there is always time to give to causes that matter to you, you just have to make sure you utilize it. Second, find a cause that truly brings you joy, and success will follow. Our first day reminded me that the legal profession is more than what goes on within the firm, and to be a great lawyer you must be involved in the community you live in. To say I was inspired would be an understatement, and I cannot wait to join some of these great organizations and get to work!

 

Concept image of the six most common questions and answers on a signpost.One important decision (among many) that an aspiring attorney must consider is what legal market to practice in. Many factors go into this decision-making matrix, including—but not limited to—the demand for specific practice areas, paths to partnership, market trends, family, weather, food, and proximity to the beach. Of course, the order of importance of these factors varies by individual preference. For me personally, proximity to the beach may or may not be ranked heavily.

Joking aside, the Miami legal market appeals to me for many reasons. For one, it is a young vibrant city with a rapidly-growing legal industry. Much of this growth has been fueled by an increase in international investment and subsequent real estate expansion. It is a city that has transformed from a pure resort destination to the gateway for business with Latin America—and to a growing extent with Europe and Asia. With growth comes opportunity. The opportunity to make an immediate and meaningful impact as a young attorney is perhaps the biggest reason I chose Miami.

Bilzin Sumberg has been at the forefront of the city’s growth since the firm’s inception. One way that the firm is currently meeting the demands of the Miami market is through its leadership role in Public-Private Partnership (P3) projects. In general, a P3 is a business relationship between a government agency and a private company for the purpose of developing public infrastructure or services. As Miami’s population continues to grow, the demand for infrastructure improvements will increase tremendously. This is one field that I personally desire to immerse myself in, especially in anticipation of the growing demand for improved infrastructure.

The firm also does a great job of developing associates. As a summer associate, I appreciate the opportunity to take on assignments related to multiple practice areas—from litigation to government relations. I also appreciate the challenge that each assignment presents. The assigning attorneys do a phenomenal job of communicating their expectations of the work product and providing us feedback at the conclusion of the assignment. This communication is essential to our development as summer associates and future attorneys of the firm. Before starting at the firm, I was unable to speak intelligently about a derivative action on behalf of a corporation, the affirmative defense of unclean hands, or the most efficient process of serving a complaint on a foreign corporation overseas—to name a few examples. Perhaps I still cannot speak intelligently about these topics, but I can at least appear to do so!

As the summer continues, I look forward to taking on more assignments, improving my knowledge on the trends of the Miami market, and growing as a professional alongside my fellow summer associates.

IMG_0294On Friday, Hannah, Luis, Forrest and I attended the Federal Court Observer Program at the Federal Courthouse downtown. The Honorable Paul C. Huck presided over a fantastic program full of information for summer associates and judicial interns. For an added treat, one of our very own—Luis—was participating in the program, arguing in a mock motion hearing for a recently settled case!

The day started with breakfast and a reception. Hannah, Forrest and I only had time to give Luis a quick “good luck” as he was already in the zone. We were ushered into a courtroom filled to the brim with rising 2L and 3L students. Chief Judge K. Michael Moore welcomed us to the Federal Court, followed by Ramón A. Abadin—past president of the Florida Bar—who gave the welcome address. Both touched on the importance of professionalism, which seemed to be an overarching theme of the program. Judge Paul C. Huck informed us that he would be asking us trivia questions throughout the program. Judge Huck based most of the questions on reading material he distributed to attendees prior to the program. The material focused on advice for young lawyers, including the importance of your reputation and intellectual curiosity. Continue Reading Court is Now in Session

IMG_0183Alex, Hannah, and Lauren had a chance to volunteer Wednesday night at Casa Valentina, but on Friday all the summer associates (along with Jessica Buchsbaum and Betsi Cobas) came together to give back to the community by volunteering at Feeding South Florida (FSF).  FSF is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the hungry; it rescues 44 million pounds of food per year, as well as leads hunger and poverty advocacy efforts throughout Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties.

We all got up early to drive to Hallandale Beach, where FSF has a sorting warehouse. Once we arrived, we were directed into an orientation room, where we were told to sign in and sit down. There were many summer associates from other South Florida law firms there to volunteer; each of us recognized some familiar faces from law school.  Joe Baldelomar, FSF’s Volunteer Coordinator, entered the room and told us about FSF’s mission and methods.  He also shared some harrowing facts about hunger in South Florida, including that 1 in 5 children go to bed hungry in the region.

Joe explained the process of how donated food is distributed to the hungry.  Donated food is first brought to a FSF warehouse, where it is then inspected, sorted, and shipped away to be distributed in various communities throughout South Florida.  We were there to help in the inspection and sorting process.  Joe concluded his presentation, and we were directed into another larger area of the warehouse, where donated food is stored. Continue Reading Feeding South Florida

IMG_9272Early in our tenure here, we learned how much Bilzin Sumberg likes to give back.

Yesterday, the women of Bilzin Sumberg went to the Casa Valentina shelter as part of a United Way volunteer project. Casa Valentina is a shelter for former foster care and homeless youth. The shelter serves as a transition tool for its residents to learn to live and thrive independently. For weeks, the firm has collected cleaning supplies to donate to the shelter as housewarming gifts for new and current residents. Last night, the women of Bilzin Sumberg went to United Way to arrange baskets for the residents. We were joined by a room full of women from other firms around the city. Karyl and Salome showed Hannah, Lauren, and me the ropes packing baskets, decorating them with ribbon, and writing cards to the residents. Continue Reading Bilzin Gives Back

The first year associates with Judge Thornton after taking their oath.
The first year associates with Judge Thornton after taking their oath.

Today was an exciting day!  Not only did our first year associates conclude their participation in The Academy for Professional Development, they also became members of The Florida BarJudge Thornton graciously took time to talk to us about civility, ethics and motion practice.  With family, friends and loved ones present, Judge Thornton then administered the Oath of Attorney.

We hope that over the past two and a half weeks, we filled the hearts and minds of Jennifer, Jessica, Anthony and Brendan.  They’ve seen great need and innovation in our community and we can’t wait for them to embark on their legal careers and grow to become leaders in our community.

In what feels like a matter of days, we’ve reached the third and final week of The Academy! Monday morning, we began the day at the office bright and early in the boardroom with Michael Kreitzer. Michael spoke to us about the basics of motion calendar and the different ways lawyers may prepare for their motions. We then took a trip to the Dade County Courthouse. Before motion calendar, we met with Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen in her chambers and had the chance to speak with her before what would be a very structured and eventful morning. The four of us first years filed into the jury box with Jessica Buchsbaum and Michael to witness the morning’s calendar beginning sharply at 9 a.m. In the approximate hour-and-a-half we were in the courtroom, we witnessed a variety of advocacy styles, legal issues, and requests from Judge Ruiz-Cohen.

Succeeding our morning’s theme of advocacy, we headed over to the Lotus House for a meeting with their Director, Anna Frusciante . She brought to our attention the issue of homelessness in Miami, specifically among women and children in the city. The discussion provoked thoughtful questions about the challenges homeless women face and the opportunities for assistance to the cause in the community. While at Lotus House, we learned that the center has the ability to accommodate up to 250 women and children, turning away thousands in need each year. Thankfully, after some pro bono work by many firm lawyers the organization is in the process of building a beautiful new location to accommodate over 500 women and children! While visiting, we were able to watch a short clip of a rendering of the new Lotus House facility, set to open in December of 2017!

Back at the office, we heard from David Trench and Melissa Pallett-Vasquez about arbitration and litigation issues that arise in specific cases. We ended the day with a visit from Alan Ojeda, the developer of our very own 1450 Brickell office space and much much more throughout the city of Miami. Alan spoke to us about how he started his development career in Miami after hailing from Spain. Most inspiring were Alan’s stories of acquiring property, building projects while others doubted his plans, and subsequently continuing to complete the numerous projects, all of which are still successful many years after their completion!

The Academy attends a rehearsal session for the "Spirit of Goodwill" Band
The Academy attends a rehearsal session for the “Spirit of Goodwill” Band

With two full weeks of the Academy behind us, I’ve been able to reflect on something that is truly inspiring. Bilzin Sumberg is not only investing in our development to become better lawyers, they are empowering us to become better people. Community is a major pillar of Bilzin Sumberg’s culture. This week was largely focused on ways in which we can give back to Miami.

We had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Levin and Mimi Klimberg from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation about identifying a cause for charity or community involvement. Throughout their presentation they cited research demonstrating that people are happier when they give back to the community. They stressed what Scott Baena and Marshall Pasternack have been reminding us all along: commit yourself to a cause that is important and meaningful to you.

Eileen Mehta introduced us to a cause that is important and meaningful to her. We had the honor and privilege of visiting Goodwill Industries of South Florida, a long-standing firm client. We met with David Landsberg, the President and CEO, who shared Goodwill’s vision and explained that Goodwill of South Florida is committed to creating jobs for people with disabilities. This particular Goodwill strives to train, employ and eventually assist in transitioning individuals with disabilities into the private work force. Goodwill South Florida is one of Miami Dade’s largest employers, and a large majority of those employees are people with disabilities, including autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, visual impairments and behavioral and psychological disabilities, who may otherwise have a difficult time seeking and maintaining employment. Goodwill has government contracts to produce Army uniforms and veteran’s flags, and additionally to clean many of the government buildings in Miami-Dade. Individuals with disabilities, employed and trained by Goodwill, complete a vast majority of this work.

Walking around the Goodwill facilities was completely invigorating. There were rows and rows of sewing machines, manned by incredibly hardworking and able individuals who appeared to take great pride and satisfaction in their work. Everywhere we looked there were pants being made, flags being produced, work being done and individual lives being shaped and bettered. As we walked around, we were greeted with many enthusiastic smiles, high fives and handshakes that certainly brightened all of our days.

The absolute highlight of my day was having the pleasure of hearing the “Spirit of Goodwill” band perform. The band members are talented, and their feel good music is guaranteed to touch your heart. The group is comprised of individuals with a wide array of disabilities, but their musical skill, excitement to perform and commitment to the band spoke so much louder than their disabilities.

Being in this incredible, opportunity-creating place made me so proud to work for Bilzin Sumberg. Eileen’s dedication helps make something like this possible. This experience reinforced the notion that the work we take has tremendous power to impact lives in a real and profound way.

little havana
The Academy visits Calle Ocho!

One of my favorite qualities of Miami is that is has held onto its vibrant roots in the community. Interestingly, the city also has an amazing ability to blend in large-scale examples of modern industry throughout, as explored in our firm’s New Miami Blog.

On the historical and cultural side, Miami has a number of excellent spots to enjoy some authentic Cuban food. To get a taste of Miami history, we headed out to an area called Little Havana, which is host to one of the best festivals in the country called “Carnaval Miami.” Packed with great shops and Miami history, Little Havana is also home to “Domino Park,” where for over 35 years, tradition has forged a meeting sport for friends and family to gather and enjoy their morning coffee with a competitive game of Dominoes.

Nicely complementing Miami’s culture, we were also able to see part of Miami’s latest industrial endeavors as we toured the All Aboard project that is underway in Downtown. The project, which is an express train service stretching from Miami to Orlando, is one of the many new and exciting developments going on to fuel Miami’s appetite for growth. Although the project will take some time to complete, we were impressed to see firsthand how quickly the company is transforming the Downtown area to include new upscale shopping and living space for tourists and residents alike to enjoy Miami’s culture.