Relations With Cuba Thaw, Work May Grow: Business of Law

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Yesterday was a busy day for Pedro Freyre, the chairman of the international practice at Akerman LLP. The Cuban-born, American-trained lawyer was inundated with calls from clients, both existing and prospective, trying to understand how the establishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba might affect their businesses.

“We’re still reeling. The phones have been ringing off the hook and I don’t think I have billed a single hour today,” Freyre said by phone.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 that they would begin normalizing relations between their two nations, a deal brokered by Pope Francis and aided by the generational shift in Florida’s Cuban-American community.

The action means not simply the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana but the lifting of some of the restrictions that have limited travel and commerce and kept aficionados from legally bringing Cuban cigars to U.S. soil.

How wide-ranging the changes will be is far from certain because the regulations haven’t yet been released.

“We’re in a wait-and-see situation,” Andy Fernandez, a partner at Holland & Knight LLP, said yesterday.

Fernandez leads his firm’s Cuban Action team. His practice centers on financial services, so he’s particularly focused on the increase in remittances permitted to Cubans, as well as the potential use of U.S. credit and debit cards on the island.

Freyre, too, said compliance with U.S. law will be “first and foremost” in advising clients eager to tap the country that he said is less-developed economically than many emerging nations.

Not until Congress lifts the decades-old embargo on doing business with Cuba will the full extent of the opportunities be known.

Until that happens, lawyers will continue to advise “clients on how to avoid tripping over the restrictions of the embargo,” Lawrence Diamond, the head of the Cuba Business Group at Duane Morris LLP, said in an e-mail.

Freyre said that loosening of restrictions should result in the increase in the sale of agriculture and communications products, along with the development of new hotels, particularly in Havana.

Florida, given its proximity and its many Cuban-American residents, is especially eager for any opening of the Cuban market, an attorney there said.

“The business community here is starving for opportunities to be explored down in Cuba,” said Milton Vescovacci, a Miami-based partner at GrayRobinson PA and head of its Cuba business unit.

Even those firms without dedicated Cuban practices are positioning themselves to help clients navigate the thicket of still-existing regulations.

Covington & Burling LLP, in response to Obama’s speech, started what it’s calling a Cuba Working Group “to assist clients in complying with changes in U.S. sanctions, taking advantage of new business opportunities, shaping additional policy changes by the administration or Congress and preserving U.S. claims regarding Cuban property.” The group will be led by Arturo Valenzuela and former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau.

Last month, GrayRobinson led a seminar in Orlando, Florida, for those interested in Cuba, and is planning another for 2015.

“Maybe next year we’ll have it in Havana,” Vescovacci said.

Law Schools

Santa Clara Law School Gets Record $10 Million Gift From Alumni

Santa Clara University School of Law, in the heart of Silicon Valley, just got $10 million from alumni Howard Charney and his wife, Alida Schoolmaster Charney.

The gift is the largest in the school’s history, according to a statement from the California institution.

Charney is a senior vice president of Cisco Systems Inc., and a co-founder of 3Com Corp., which was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as the founder of Grand Junction Networks, which Cisco bought in 1995, according to the statement.

The money is part donation and part matching gift to support additional fundraising.

According to the school’s statement, the funds will “help form the foundation for a new law school building which will replace three current facilities.” The building will be close to Santa Clara’s business school, “to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Firm Moves

Goodwin Procter Adds Executive Compensation Lawyer from Bingham

Natascha George has joined Goodwin Procter LLP as a partner in its Erisa and executive compensation practice in Boston. George was previously a partner in the Boston office of Bingham McCutchen LLP.

Her practice focuses on executive compensation and employee benefits law. She advises clients on executive employment and consulting arrangements, severance obligations, and equity and equity-based compensation plans.

K&L Gates Adds LipoScience Ex-General Counsel in North Carolina

Kathryn Twiddy has joined K&L Gates LLP as a partner in its corporate/M&A practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was previously general counsel at LipoScience Inc.

Twiddy’s experience has focused in the life sciences and technology sectors. She has advised clients on complex corporate and technology transactions, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, corporate governance and compliance, employment, and health-care law, according to a statement from the firm.

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