Community Involvement & Pro Bono

The first week has really flown by and it is hard to believe it is already the end of our first week of the Academy. The morning started out with a firm-wide breakfast for Teach for America – an organization near and dear to both the firm and our clients.  

After the breakfast, Stacia Wells walked us through a session on understanding financial statements. As a firm catering to commercial clients, spotting potential legal issues in financial statements is a critical skill. I know we all appreciated Stacia’s engaging and straightforward approach to what can be an intimidatingly complex area for recent law school graduates.  

Oksana Esberard then led us through a mindfulness session. We learned that we can add value and increase productivity by simply giving everyone a moment to gather their thoughts before diving into business in meetings.  

We then headed over to the Design District for lunch at MC Kitchen, where we were joined by clients Steven Gretenstein (of Dacra, a real estate development company) and Lyle Chariff, Mauricio Zapata, and Luis Guevara (of Chariff Realty Group). After a delightful lunch, they took us on a tour of emerging neighborhoods – starting with the Design District. The Design District is home to cafés, restaurants, and art galleries, as well as to flagship stores for luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Louboutin. Our group was privileged to visit Dacra in the Design District and see their fascinating private art collection adorning the walls of the Dacra offices.  

After the Design District, we toured Wynwood (famous for the Wynwood Walls, as well as many excellent restaurants and breweries) and the emerging neighborhood of Allapattah. It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience to hear the stories of how these three neighborhoods have evolved and grown over the years. We felt truly privileged that Bilzin Sumberg’s deep and meaningful client relationships allowed us to benefit from these insights.

 

We started the day with a legal writing seminar taught by Ed Lintz of Legal Writing Pro—a resource to which I attribute much of my success in law school (Point Made, written by the company’s founder, was by my side at all times then and now). But the seminar was particularly helpful because we discussed not only writing for courts but for clients too. Us lawyers often indulge ourselves with legal ruminations in client letters when the client simply wants advice written in plain English. Though most of us know this, we still forget to write from the reader’s perspective.  

After lunch, Michael Moore, legal researcher extraordinaire, stopped by with Shalia Sakona from our litigation department to give us an overview of best practices when facing a research problem. Another thing clients don’t like—being billed for inefficient research. And who can blame them? 

 The next event of the day was perhaps my favorite. Jeff Levin and Mimi Klimberg of the Greater Miami-Dade Jewish Federation gave a fantastic non-denominational presentation on how to find a passion and pick a charity organization with similar values. We shared stories of how we’ve helped others, discussed the sense of fulfillment that came from it, and planned how we could make an impact going forward. 

 The last bit of training for the day was given by Scott Baena, the creator of this wonderful program. Can you guess what it was about? Here is a hint: we ultimately work in the service sector, and without clients we are nothing more than unemployed philosophers. I’m sure you guessed it—client satisfaction. I learned that oftentimes the best way to serve a client is simply by asking what his or her needs are. What are your goals in dealing with this matter? How would you like to be updated? Clients want us to know what they want; we just need to ask (and deliver).  

Last but not least was an experience that I will never forget. We had a wonderful dinner with Bilzin Sumberg’s founding partners and its next managing partner, Al Dotson. The discussion was moderated by Marshall Pasternack, who led us through a range of topics, from our firm culture and the importance of pro-bono work, to the mistakes partners made as young associates. People say it’s almost impossible to get a group of lawyers to coordinate a conference call, yet we had a three-hour-dinner with a group of partners who are likely busier than I can even fathom. What a testament to the firm’s development of its young lawyers!  

I am so proud to be a part of the Bilzin Sumberg family. The firm does not give mere lip service to serving the community; it walks the walks. And it true—you don’t just “fit in” here, you belong here. 

 

 

 

The Academy participants with Meg Daly, Founder of Friends of the Underline

It’s hard to believe, but we’re now more than halfway through the Academy.  We began the day by visiting with Oksana Esberard, who led us in our second mindfulness session.  Scott Baena and Jessica Buchsbaum joined us for this “heartful” session, in which Oksana directed us to close our eyes, lean back in our chairs, spread our arms, and focus on our hearts.  While we did breathing exercises, Oksana encouraged us to think about all the things that we felt grateful for in our lives.

My thoughts turned to my family and friends of course, but also to the present moment.  I felt lucky to be part of an organization that takes wellness seriously and gives each first year associate the tools needed to become successful young attorneys.  It was a powerful experience, and it’s an exercise I plan to do again on my own.  I left the session with a tremendous feeling of gratitude.

In the afternoon we visited Lotus House, a nonprofit homeless shelter dedicated to improving the lives of homeless women, youth and children.  Lotus House shelters approximately one quarter of the sheltered homeless population in Miami-Dade County, but receives little public funding.  As a result, support from the community is of paramount importance.

Program Director Isabella Dell’Oca gave us a tour of Lotus House’s new building, which was completed in December 2017.  The new facility can house over 400 individuals and includes a play zone for children, a full kitchen, a beauty salon, a second-floor garden, and an educational area.  Before we left we had the pleasure of meeting the founder and president of Lotus House, Constance Collins, in a section of the building that Bilzin Sumberg sponsored. We were proud to learn that Bilzin Sumberg had played a role in Lotus House’s successful move to the new building. Before heading back to the office we had lunch together and reflected on the impact that one person with a big idea can have on the community.

Back at the office we met with Meg Daly, the founder and president of Friends of the Underline. After falling and breaking both of her arms, she was riding the Metrorail to physical therapy a few years ago when she noticed the unused space underneath the train tracks.  That was how she got her big idea: the Underline, a proposed 10-mile linear park running under the Metrorail line from the Miami River to Dadeland.  Once completed, the Underline will incorporate a wide variety of amenities and activities, including recreation areas, dog parks, dining and gaming tables, and artist spaces.  Meg helped us understand her vision for the Underline and the positive impact it will have on the community, while Land Use associate Carly Grimm explained some unique zoning issues that are presented by such an ambitious project.

At the end of the day we spoke with Scott. He challenged each of us to think about what we could do to give back to the community and to help those around us. Fortunately, the Academy continues to provide excellent examples for us.

Next week is the ninth and final week of the Bilzin Sumberg summer associate program.   As it winds down, we are finishing our remaining assignments, adding final lunches to the calendar, and preparing for vacation…or for some us…the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)!  But the past eight weeks have been amazing, and each of us has had invaluable opportunities to gain early exposure to the practice of law, develop our professional skills, and build relationships.  Below is a brief summary of my experience.

Assignments:  I have worked under the supervision of attorneys from multiple practice groups.

  • Real Estate: My assignments here included (1) drafting an amendment to a purchase agreement; (2) drafting and revising specific provisions of a consulting agreement; (3) researching and summarizing financial covenants, permitted transfers, and guarantees for loan transactions; and (4) assisting with two commercial real estate closings.
  • Corporate: My assignments here included (1) researching and summarizing Florida default rules pertaining to specific partnership disputes; (2) researching Florida and Delaware mandatory rules pertaining to limited liability companies and limited partnerships; and (3) assisting with due diligence tasks for a corporate acquisition.
  • Litigation: My assignments here included (1) researching case law regarding the requisite standards for declaratory judgment in order to defeat a motion for declaratory judgment; and (2) conducting a thorough review of foreign corporate documents in order to gather evidence of an antitrust price-fixing scheme among co-conspirators.
  • Land Use: My assignment here included researching Miami-Dade County ordinances and administrative orders pertaining to the private-development on county-owned land.

Events:  The networking events this summer have been plentiful and rewarding.  From preparing meals at a Coral Gables restaurant to volunteering at a homeless shelter in Miami, we have had opportunities to have fun and give back to our community.

Mentorship:  I want to be sure to highlight this aspect of the summer program.  Each summer associate is assigned an attorney mentor who is responsible for providing advice and guidance throughout the summer.  And all of our mentors have done a phenomenal job in making themselves available to us and looking out for our best interests.  With that being said, I want to give a special thanks to Chris Pierson for his service as my attorney mentor for the past two summers!

 

In summary, it has been an absolute pleasure to work here as a summer associate for the past two summers.  I have learned a lot, built invaluable relationships, and discovered a strong passion for a particular area of the law.  Now that I’m aging out of this whole law school thing, I look forward to stepping into the next phase of my legal career.  Stay tuned!

One of my primary objectives coming into the summer was to establish a plan of action for my future, both at Bilzin Sumberg and in the Miami community. Of course, at the top of the list was figuring out which of the firm’s prestigious Practice Groups I would prioritize, but I also wanted to put myself on a path to career development and community entrenchment that would carry me for the duration of my career. Over two-thirds of the way through the summer, I can confidently say that the summer associate program has helped me to accomplish this goal through meaningful work with substantive feedback and consistent attorney mentorship opportunities. Everyday has proven to be a new chance for us to learn, grow, and have fun, and Bilzin Sumberg could not be more welcoming in helping us to feel at home while providing us with a  practical dose of real legal work. Continue Reading Learning from Lawyers over Lunch: The Life of a Summer Associate

Bilzin Sumberg hosted a wine and cheese reception this Monday to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. “Celebrate” in this context has a double meaning. Brian Adler ran through the history of Pride Month and taught me aspects of the movement that I never considered. From Pride Month’s inception–beginning with the Stonewall Riot–members of the LGBTQ community have used positivity and acceptance as a form of resistance. My previous understanding was that the movement essentially served as a single-issue platform: to fight for the acceptance of gay marriage. But I was completely wrong. The community through Pride Month has successfully fought for greater HIV/AIDS research, for anti-discrimination legislation (such as the Matthew Shepard Act), for more inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the military, and various other initiative pushing for equality. There is much more work that needs to be done, but certainly a lot to celebrate. Continue Reading Happy Pride Month!

This past Monday we experienced a wonderful opportunity to give back to our local community by volunteering at the Chapman Partnership‘s Miami Homeless Assistance Center. The Chapman Partnership provides food and shelter to approximately 5,000 homeless individuals and families on an annual basis. These homeless centers also assist with job training, job placement, and securing housing.

The Bilzin Sumberg team took part in fulfilling the Chapman Partnership‘s mission by serving meals, waiting tables, and maintaining the kitchen and cafeteria. It was an extraordinarily humbling experience for all of us, and we met absolutely amazing people who are seeking to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

I personally met one such individual: a 16-year old local high school student who aspires to become an attorney one day. Speaking with this individual was very inspiring, and he maintained an extraordinarily positive outlook on his future despite his current challenges.

Bilzin Sumberg takes great pride in giving back to the local community on a regular basis, and I am proud to take part in this effort.

(L to R, Jessica, Eric, Lucas, Ben, Devin and Brianna)

Bilzin Sumberg provides opportunities to work together to benefit charitable organizations in South Florida and beyond.  The firm’s strong commitment to the community has constantly been conveyed.  This past Friday, our summer associate class took a break from assignments and volunteered at Feeding South Florida (FSF).  FSF is the sole Feeding America food bank serving Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties; they have the largest service area in the state, serving 25% of the state’s food insecure population and rescuing 46 million pounds of food per year.

Once we arrived to the sorting warehouse, we had orientation and got separated into 4 groups: inspectors, runners, sorters, and builders.  The Bilzin Sumberg volunteers were inspectors, managing three tables in the inspection room.  We examined the donated food, threw out unusable food, and called for a runner to bring our inspected box to the sorters, who classified food into categories.  Lastly, we were provided with the number of meals we helped provide to families in need of food assistance that day, which was—drum roll, please—a whopping 35,000 meals.

 

To finish up another amazing week, Eric Singer invited the summer associates to go sailing together on Saturday.  During the trip, we saw the beautiful Miami skyline and the historical houses of Stiltsville.  His sailboat is great, the Miami views are great, but Eric is even greater for thinking to include us!  Thanks again, Eric!

 

Brianna Sainte

Our first two weeks at Bilzin Sumberg surpassed all expectations!

On Thursday, May 24th, we participated in one of the numerous opportunities the firm offers to give back to the community. The firm supported Red Nose Day, an international fundraising campaign dedicated to ending child poverty. After donating, we were all invited to clown around for a good cause at a photo booth filled with props—including crowns, taco hats, and, of course, red noses. From day one, everyone has highlighted the significance of being involved through the Bilzin Sumberg Cares initiative, and Thursday was yet another example of the firm’s commitment to philanthropy.

Bilzin Sumberg not only empowers us to give back, they invest in our development to become better lawyers. Our Friday WestLaw training session included lessons on how to: find court filing rules and checklists, compare law across jurisdictions, and craft a systematic research approach. I appreciate that if I ever get stuck in my research for an assignment, there will be a small army of people to help me get on the right track; I have never felt overwhelmed, just encouraged and supported. Through substantive training programs and day-to-day legal practice support, Bilzin Sumberg fosters efficiency to ensure our success. I’m looking forward to the upcoming seven weeks!

 

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.