As administrative managing partner you lead the administration of Diaz Reus’ 27 global offices. Can you tell me a bit more about how you came to be in the role?
I have had this title for two and a half years now. I started as an associate at Diaz Reus in 2009. When I started at Diaz Reus I was the only woman attorney and the only foreigner. I am actually from Spain and I am a qualified lawyer in Spain as well as in the United States. I worked really hard as an associate. (I have plenty of stories about my early days – lots of stories of sleepless nights and cancelled vacations.) After six years I was promoted to partner. Michael Diaz, Jr, our founding partner, really believed in my work, my dedication, and my professionalism. Being the only woman partner in the Miami office, the firm’s headquarters, gave me a voice at partner level and I was able to recommend certain changes to the procedures in the firm. Those were heard and adopted. As a result, things improved. Michael Diaz, Jr appreciated that I cared so much about making things better and as a result I was promoted to administrative managing partner. I was very humbled and took that position with great honour.
It is noted that you are bilingual and able to arbitrate in both Spanish and English in Miami. Are there not many attorneys who can do this?
No, in my experience not many US lawyers can do it. Miami has become a hub for arbitration, especially for Latin American clients. Being able to have your lawyers handle an arbitration both in English and Spanish is an asset. That does not only mean being able to speak the language or understanding the culture; it also means understanding the civil law system. We have achieved that by hiring lawyers with degrees both in the US and in civil law countries such as Colombia or Spain. That gives the client a strategic and financial advantage. Hiring local counsel everywhere can get expensive, not only because that requires different retainers and fee structures, but also because clients need more staff in-house to keep track of everything. When one law firm can deliver everything everywhere, the client saves money, and who doesn’t like that?
What has changed within the firm during your time there?
A lot. When I started as an associate in 2009 the firm was an international arbitration and litigation boutique that was starting to grow. In ten years we have reached new markets and are servicing our clients in other areas of the law. We are now a full-service law firm with 27 offices in the world. In 2018 we launched the ‘DRT International Law Firm & Alliance’ to formalise our relationships with the foreign offices, and we celebrate a yearly retreat.
The firm has also grown in terms of diversity. As I said, when I started as an associate in 2009 I was the only woman lawyer and the only foreigner. It was a very different law firm from what it is now. Today our team includes both women and men, and everyone is treated the same. This is part of the culture that comes from the top. Gender-equality is a topic that I really care about, and I always try to give advice and guidance to the younger associates in that regard.
Diversity is something that the firm has worked on a lot. In fact, we believe that our diversity is our strength. If you look at our website you will see that our team is formed by people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, who speak different languages, and have different cultures. Management has certainly seen the value in having a diverse group of people (from lawyers to legal support) as a team and it has become our identity.
Do you think the hire of more female attorneys has changed the firm?
Yes, absolutely. It has brought the firm together more. I have found that women are better planners, which is a great quality as a lawyer. Also, having women on teams boosts group collaboration and improves team processes. Clients also come from all different walks of life. The more diverse we are, the more we reflect our clients, which results in better and more effective communication. Women are great at multitasking and can wear many hats. These are very valuable skills that benefit the team and the firm as a whole.
In addition to the recruitment of more diverse lawyers, does the firm get involved in other diversity-related activities?
We get involved in activities within the community. We are involved in a project with the black community in Miami. That extends to our office in Johannesburg, South Africa. Along with our local partner, we want to help the black community in their quest to achieve fairness in land ownership and land titles. In South Africa the community is 90% black, but 90% of private property is in white hands. We want to help them reach a solution to this problem. The firm has experience in this area through the representation of the Miccosukee tribe here in Florida and their initiative in Congress to enact laws whereby the property that was appropriated from the tribe was given back to them. We are transferring that knowledge and experience to South Africa to see if we can assist them in achieving the same goals.
There is also a group of black lawyers in South Africa who are creating a parallel bar association to support black lawyers and they want us to be a part of that. We are very excited about this initiative.
Is the opening of the office in Johannesburg part of an overall expansion programme or is it the only new location planned at the moment?
We are always looking at different markets – wherever our clients have needs we try to set a footprint so we can assist them seamlessly. We want to serve our clients locally and meet the clients where they are, with the capacity to assist them in everything and everywhere. I think that we have done that very well and continue to do so. But opening a new office involves careful thought and research regarding not only new hires, but also regarding the new market’s practice characteristics, rates, clients expectations, and local idiosyncrasies. The firm’s expansion programme aim is to have a local footprint in a global world.
What would you say your biggest challenges are as a firm?
The biggest challenges come from technology and client demands. Clients demand more for less, and the only way to achieve that is through technology and making processes simpler. Today there are programmes for everything from time-keeping to brief-writing. However, law is still a very conservative profession and sometimes it can be challenging to have everyone adapt to new things.
Is there anything else about Diaz Reus that you think sets you apart?
I think we are unique in many ways. All our cases have an international component: either the client is from outside the US, or the cause of action arises in another country, or the applicable law is foreign. Our cases involve complex issues of law and are intellectually challenging. They are all different and that makes it fun. We are a big law firm in terms of size and in terms of the type of cases and deals that we handle for our clients, but we do not sacrifice our family-oriented way of doing things. That reflects on the type of work we do and the attention that we devote to our clients and their legal matters. We are not a volume law firm and are lucky to be able to choose what cases we like. The culture of the firm is to make everyone feel part of the team – part of the Diaz Reus family.