A few weeks ago, the other Summer Associates and I went to lunch with Michelle Weber. We all listened intently as Brian described his interest in space photography and Kayla confessed her love of horror films. This summer, one of my goals was to read more books. After mentioning a few books I recently read and enjoyed, Michelle and I realized that our reading lists overlapped. One after another, we threw out names of books we had both just read.

Soon after that lunch, I received an email invitation to an informal women’s book club which meets for lunch every few weeks. The book for the meeting was Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris; Michelle selected it after having loved reading it herself. Inspired by a real photograph illustrating four children for sale, Sold on a Monday is the story of a reporter who finds a sign advertising children for sale during the Great Depression.

While Jessica rolled into the meeting steaming about the book’s predictability, opinions of the book varied. As we shared our thoughts on the plot and the development of the characters (or, according to Jessica, the lack thereof), I listened the differing perspectives. It seemed that everyone noticed different aspects of the characters and the storyline. To me, that is the best part of a book club.

As the meeting drew to a close, the others selected a book for the next lunch. Unfortunately, the Summer Program ends before then, so I won’t be able to attend; however, I left the lunch appreciative of the fact that a group like this one exists at Bilzin Sumberg. Each person there took time out of a busy schedule to coordinate and discuss a book, just for the joy of reading. As a Summer Associate, the book club is just one example of the many ways the attorneys at Bilzin Sumberg brings people who share similar interests together.

 

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” – Blaise Pascal.

“I am sorry Judge, I would have written a shorter brief if I had more time.” – The untrained legal writer.

While I quote the latter somewhat tongue in cheek, the reality is that inattention to legal writing will bottleneck a lawyer’s efficacy. Every law student has heard it before, “try to write well.” But if one is not careful, this statement can be understood as, “your legal writing is ancillary to your work as a lawyer.” This view on legal writing is fatal. That we have to communicate our ideas and positions in writing is not some necessary evil or a meaningless step in lawyering. Words, sentences, and paragraphs are the lawyer’s crafting bench. Lawyers forge their arguments with these units, they cast and recast arguments, and, like a silversmith, they test and retest for impurities. It seems bizarre that lawyers will let their own writing stand in the way of well-thought positions. Therefore, my charge is to develop myself as a legal writer. I could not be any more well positioned to do so than I am now as a summer associate at Bilzin Sumberg.

I am surrounded by some of the best litigators in the profession, and they are all so quick to help me navigate the journey to “good legal writing.” But it’s not just the litigators who are passionate about legal writing. My very first assignment came from Marty Schwartz, a partner in the Real Estate group who is passionate about shaping young lawyers into good legal writers. Marty wrote a great article, Do You Speak Legalese?, which should motivate transactional lawyers to develop their craft. Marty also wrote Legal Writing: Legalese, Please, another piece designed to help the transactional lawyer. Sara Herald, another attorney in the Real Estate group, has repeatedly mentioned her joint project with Marty to weed out poor legal writing. So, regardless of my inclination towards one group over another, there are people willing to support my development as a legal writer. Upon my realization that I was surrounded by all of these seasoned writers who were willing to help soon-to-be lawyers, I decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

I began reaching out to various attorneys with the goal of either meeting to discuss their methods to good legal writing or, alternatively, to develop a reading list that I can work through during my last year of law school. The response was overwhelming. So far I’ve met with Raquel Fernandez, Anthony Sirven, Luis Reyes, Michael Strauch, and Marty Schwartz. I also have an upcoming meeting with Jeffrey Snyder. All of these great people have given me the opportunity pick their brains to see what makes them good legal writers. I have had coffee sessions with some of them to discuss their process, received samples of how they handled various situations, received direct feedback on my work, and/or received a great list of books to work through.

It is very obvious that Bilzin Sumberg takes the proper view on legal writing. Early into the summer we had an extensive writing clinic that equipped us with the tools to develop ourselves as good legal writers. The fact that Bilzin Sumberg is supporting us in our development, and that those who have gone before us are so willing to mentor us, means that there is no ceiling as to how far we can go.

In sum, I feel quite fortunate to have found myself in a place that values lawyer development. After my judicial externship I gained a fire and passion to develop myself as a good legal writer; it is so encouraging to know that Bilzin Sumberg is actively working towards helping me grow that passion.

 

While no two days at the office are exactly the same, most days usually look a little something like this for me: get to the office, grab a cup of coffee, check emails, make a to do list, get to work on any pending assignments, grab lunch with some of the attorneys (usually at Edge or PM Fish & Steakhouse), continue working on any assignments I have, and then depending on the day, head to a Summer Associate social event! However, today, I took a break from my usual schedule to venture off from the office and see what practicing as a litigation attorney is like. Specifically, Sophia and I got to attend a tag along with the infamous duo, Mitch Widom and Raquel Fernandez.

As some of my fellow Summer Associates have explained, a “tag along” is when you attend a hearing or client meeting with an attorney. The purpose of tag alongs is so that as Summer Associates we get a full understanding of what every attorney’s practice consists of. The tag along I attended was a summary judgment hearing. Not only was I excited because this was my first litigation tag along, but I actually conducted research and drafted a memorandum relating to the matter.

At the hearing, Sophia and I got to see Mitch argue before the judge as to why he should grant their motion for summary judgment. As soon as Mitch began arguing, we saw the value in having a thorough understanding of the facts of your client’s case, knowing relevant case law inside and out, and having all of your materials organized so that they are easily accessible for both you and the judge. Most importantly however, we saw why having strong oral advocacy skills is necessary as a litigator. Mitch (unsurprisingly) was exemplary.

After the hearing, Mitch and Raquel took us around the courthouse to meet some of the judges. It was so nice to see the comradery between judges and attorneys. Afterwards, we had lunch at a restaurant across the street. Mitch and Raquel told us that this was THE place that litigators and judges go for lunch — Sophia and I were getting the full “litigator experience.” Lunch was filled with good food, great conversation, and at one point, Mitch used his advocacy skills to persuade us as hypothetical jurors!

Overall, we had quite the exciting day. While not everyday as a litigator consists of going to court, this is something you have to be comfortable doing as a litigator. In addition, this is something you have to LOVE doing — which is something we saw from Mitch and Raquel. i look forward to attending more litigation tag alongs as the summer (sadly) comes to an end.

 

Summer Associate, Franco Piccinini

It’s hard to believe, but the end of the summer program at Bilzin Sumberg is fast approaching! We’ve enjoyed 6 weeks of happy hours, lunches, and creative after-work events that have kept us on our toes (ahem axe throwing) and provided us with valuable opportunities to get to know attorneys outside of work. Yet even with the end in sight, we continue to attend fun and exciting events each week.

A few weeks ago, the summer associates braved I-95 and headed north to Top Golf for a fun evening with the Land Use and Government Relations Department. When we arrived, we were greeted by Jay “The King” Sakalo, who with the first few shots of the night cemented himself as the guy to be beat. We next grabbed our clubs and tried our own shots. While no one hit the ball quite as far as Sophia Guzzo or Brian “Tiger” Trujillo, we each tried our best and had fun doing it.

Eric Singer and Carter McDowell matched up with Sophi, Jordan, and I for a lighthearted game. As we each took turns hitting the ball, we talked about the summer program, the daily life of a land use attorney, and our respective areas of interest. Eric Singer and I reminisced about our childhood summers in northern Michigan (“Up North”), while Brian and Kayla competed with Jay and a handful of other attorneys in the next bay over.

Alexandra Barshel impressed all night, driving the ball with ease, while Jay Sakalo provided each of us with valuable advice, even as he beat me handedly in a one-on-one matchup. Not everyone golfed, but even those who chose not to play had a great time, conversing with each other while enjoying tacos and drinks on a hot summer night. Overall, just like every other event we’ve attended, we all had a blast, enjoying each other’s company while trying our hand at something new.

Summer Associate, Sophia Guzzo
Summer Associate, Brian Trujillo
Summer Associate, Jordan Rhodes
Summer Associate, Kayla Hernandez

 

Summer Associates, Jordan Rhodes and Brian Trujillo.

When the other summer associates and I first saw “Axe Throwing with the Corporate Department” on our calendars at the beginning of the summer, we had no idea what to expect. But that didn’t stop us! On Tuesday night we showed up to Extreme Axe Throwing in downtown Miami, ready for what the evening had in store. After watching the “Axeperts” give a brief demonstration and go over some very minor safety concerns, it was time to throw some axes! Continue Reading Axes & Attorneys

At Bilzin Sumberg, each Summer Associate is assigned a mentor. On our first day at the firm, we gathered in the lobby to wait for our mentors to pick us up for lunch. Unsure who I was looking for, I looked around nervously until my mentor, Anthony Sirven, introduced himself. We went to lunch and bonded over our love of writing and our common Miami upbringing.

For the Summer Associates, being assigned a mentor is a source of comfort. First, your mentor is someone who can answer your questions. As a 1L, I sometimes feel that I have more questions than my 2L counterparts do; however, Anthony always takes the time to answer and explain until I am up to speed. On a similar note, a mentor can be like an advisor– when I feel unsure about how to approach an assignment or a situation with a partner, I know that he will guide me in the right direction.

Mentorship at Bilzin Sumberg, however, extends beyond your assigned mentor. For example, Adrian Felix, an associate in the Litigation group, is involved in directing the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, which seeks to pair judges with underrepresented law students for summer internship opportunities. After having lunch with my officemate Jordan and I, Adrian invited us to an event that the JIOP put forth in which we were able to meet and listen to the stories of almost a dozen judges from South Florida.

I also had the opportunity to attend a Commission hearing at the City of Coral Gables with Anthony De Yurre, a partner in the Land-Use group. Anthony took the time to describe the ins-and-outs of his Land-Use practice in Coral Gables and the City of Miami, where he works closely with the local government to find solutions for his clients. He explained how Land-Use is a repeat game that requires relationships with local officials, and how important it is to him to build value for his clients.

In each practice group I have explored, partners and associates have generously taken the time to explain their area of expertise. This helps me to gain a better sense of what area I might like to practice.

If you think back to my last post about the Real Estate Mock Negotiation, you will remember how excited I was to cut my teeth on transactional practice. Be careful what you wish for. My eagerness quickly turned to frustration when presented with the very real ambiguity that transactional lawyers deal with on a daily basis. But this frustration grew into one of the most important lessons I will learn as a young lawyer.

As with most law students, I struggle with ambiguity – I want to know everything about everything. Therefore, it was only natural that I struggled with not knowing what “market” was for the fictional terms that would be solidified in our fictional contract as a result of our fictional negotiations. I was reminded, however, that this learning experience is more about the journey than the finish. The value of this process is that I get a full dose of what transactional practice looks like, and sometimes transactional work is surrounded by ambiguity.

The frustration with myself stemmed from the uncertainty in the negotiation exercises. “Am I being too aggressive? Am I being too passive? Am I justified in asking for X%?” These questions raced through my mind. I felt uncomfortable in our negotiations because I did not know whether I was justified in asking for certain provisions or values – i.e., I did not know what terms qualified as “market” or standard. What I needed help remembering (thank you, Ali!) is that the purpose of this program is to teach me what transactional practice is like, not just what the substance looks like. In practice, sometimes what counts as market is unknown; something I completely failed to account for. The great news? I was supported by the whole team (Adam, Phil, Sara, and Ali), and I was tapping into invaluable years of experience.

I learned that in practice, you come across unique transactions that don’t fit into what counts as market or standard. The pursuit of mirroring a previous deal can harm valuable interests unique to the deal in front of you. To determine whether it makes sense to push/give on a certain point, we look to the client’s interest, not external sources. In other words, we embrace the ambiguity and think creatively about adding value to our client’s interests. I learned that in this space, this ambiguous space, the lawyer adds value. It could come in the form of developing a new solution that does not conform to previous deals, or it could come in the form of developing good arguments for why your position is agreeable. Either way, the focus is on developing a solution for your client, not conformity to the past.

In short, I am learning a lot. Not just about the process of getting a deal done but also about the practice of deal work. The team corrected for the assumption that I needed to operate within the norms of what counts as market; they reminded me that the value we add is thinking creatively about the obstacles in front of us.

Therefore, the major takeaway for me is to fully embrace ambiguity; fully appreciate the opportunity to be free from standard.

 

 

Time is flying by! It’s mid-June, and even though it’s hard to believe, we’re already more than halfway through the summer associate program at Bilzin Sumberg. Considering that the last 4 weeks have been packed with interesting assignments, fun after-work events, and informative lunches, I figured now would be a good time to reflect on some of the most memorable events of the summer.

One of the most underrated (maybe not that underrated) aspects of the summer associate program is lunch. Each day, the summer associates, whether individually or in a group, go out to lunch with an associate or partner from the firm. I have enjoyed each lunch I’ve taken, not because the chicken chop-chop from Edge is so delicious (even after the 5th time), but because going to lunch with coworkers has provided me with a rare and valuable opportunity to get to know people at the firm on a more personal level. At lunch, we talk about everything from sports to hobbies to travel, to selecting a particular practice area and effectively managing the everyday stresses of work in the legal profession. We are able to pick the brains of some really intelligent attorneys who also genuinely care about our interests and backgrounds.

Without a doubt, some of the most memorable lunches have come as a group. We have had the opportunity to have lunch with some of the firm’s founding partners, as well as with Michelle Weber and the first-year associates. We spoke with Brian Bilzin about his move to Miami, how the city has changed over the years, and how the firm has evolved with it. While we enjoyed cocktails and appetizers at PM, we spoke with John Sumberg about traveling and his love for the outdoors. We discussed land use and local government with Stanley Price, and we engaged in meaningful dialogue about the nature of transactional practice with Alan Axelrod.

My individual lunches have been equally as impressive. Marshall Pasternack and I talked about travel, art, teaching, and the scope of his practice, while he settled my nerves about making mistakes as a young lawyer, explaining that “a shot not taken is a goal not scored.” Melissa Pallett-Vasquez and I talked about our respect for a common mentor and the difficulty of explaining where you’re from when you moved a lot as a child. Eric Singer and I recapped key takeaways from a client meeting while we enjoyed sandwiches in his office. Ilana Drescher, Kenneth Duvall, Brian Trujillo, and I spoke about the intricacies of litigation while we enjoyed tacos at Coyo. And Jose Ferrer, Desiree Fernandez, and I debriefed a motion hearing while we took in the sights and sounds of Miami’s Wynwood Art District.

All of this is to say that each lunch has been different, but equally valuable. Some conversations have centered on work matters, while others have focused on simply getting to know one another. Nearly all have blended both aspects, providing me with an incredible opportunity to connect with people at the firm. With four weeks remaining in the summer program, I am sure I will enjoy many more lunches, but it’s the conversation and connection with my coworkers that I most look forward to.

Now that we are officially half-way through the summer (time flies!), I think it is a good time to reflect on some of the assignments that I have had so far. As someone who was not entirely sure what practice group I was interested in when I began the summer, having the opportunity to take assignments from different practice groups was something I was really excited about. Bilzin Sumberg has an array of practice groups which makes taking assignments that much more interesting.

My assignments so far have included:

While all of the social events and community service events have been tons of fun, my favorite part of the summer has been working on complex and challenging assignments. Not only has this helped me develop relationships with the attorneys I have worked with, but it has helped me determine what my interests are. I look forward to taking on more assignments the remainder of my summer and really honing in on my interests. And yes, I plan on taking on some assignments from the Corporate practice group.

Law school teaches us how to analyze a case, what study habits work best, and how to prioritize time. However one thing my 1L year did not teach me is what to expect at a local government meeting or litigation hearing.

In the last week, I have attended a city commission meeting with the Bilzin Sumberg Land Use department and a hearing for the Litigation department. Both experiences highlighted the importance of over preparation and being able to adjust to changing circumstances.

We arrived to the City of Miami commission meeting nearly an hour ahead of time so we could set up and organize our materials. Although I have attended local government meetings before, I was unsure of what to expect. We did not know when our item would be heard or how long it would take. But while we waited, I was able to hear from dozens of community members as they spoke about the issues that mattered to them. Then when our item came up, the team had to be prepared to find any document or board that proved relevant all within the few minutes allotted to speak. Prior to learning about the Land Use department, I was not aware that an area of law like this even existed. In just a few weeks, I have learned about procurement and how lawyers practicing in this area often attend meetings like these as another form of advocating for their clients.

The importance of preparation proved instrumental at the civil court hearing I attended as well. This was my first time at the Miami-Dade County Court House. When the case was called, Jake Greenberg allowed me to stand with him as he addressed the judge to really get the full effect. Although the hearing lasted no more than fifteen minutes, I was able to see how crucial it is to familiarize yourself with your case. Curveballs can come up and as a lawyer, you have to be prepared to answer questions and advocate for your client. Continue Reading What Law School Doesn’t Show Us