This week, more than 1,000 professionals from around the globe will come to Miami for the International Council for Commercial Arbitration bi-annual congress. But don’t think of this as just another flood of out-of-towners, Miami lawyer Burton Landy said.
Only once before in the past 50 years has this “World Cup of International Arbitration” been held in the U.S. Its Miami appearance signals the region’s growing importance as a world center for settling international business disputes.
Landy, a partner with Miami-based Akerman and chairman of the Miami International Arbitration Society, chatted with the Miami Herald by email about arbitration, his career, and his signature handlebar mustache.
Q. Where are you from, originally, and how did you get to South Florida?
A. Chicago. One cold, gray day in the winter of 1950, while trudging through the snow and slush on my way to class at Northwestern University Law School, my thoughts wandered to Latin America. I developed an interest in Latin America after studying in the summer of 1948 at the National University of Mexico. I transferred to the University of Miami School of Law, which had one of the few Latin American law programs at that time.
Q. What was your career path before getting into arbitration?
A. After graduation, I entered the Air Force JAG Program and served in Alabama, Texas and in South Korea at the end of the Korean War. It was there that I honed my litigation skills, having participated in over 100 courts-martial over a two-year period. When I returned to Miami, I started practice as a litigator. By the time I joined Akerman, I had transitioned to a commercial and transactional practice and subsequently combined my overall experience to become an arbitrator.
Q. Help those of us who aren’t lawyers: What is the difference between arbitration, mediation and a regular lawsuit?
A. Arbitration is binding and judgmental. The arbitrator is selected by the parties involved and acts as a “private judge” who renders his or her decision, also known as an award. By contrast, judges in regular lawsuits are either appointed or elected officials who are assigned cases on a random basis. Mediation is a process whereby a mediator is selected by parties to attempt to facilitate a settlement. The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong.
Q. Are arbitrations generally between companies, or do they also extend to disputes with individuals, such as consumers?
A. International arbitrations are generally between companies of different nationalities, but may involve individuals as well. There is a growing number of arbitrations stemming from international investment disputes involving companies (investors) and foreign governments or government agencies. These are generally pursuant to international treaties.
Q. Why has arbitration become so popular, especially in international disputes?
A. When practiced correctly, arbitrations should be quicker, better and less expensive than disputes handled in a traditional court of law; parties involved also have more flexibility in arbitrations. Proceedings typically take place in a neutral city and awards are generally easier to enforce. The Miami International Arbitration Society saw the opportunity to promote Miami as an optimal venue for resolving international disputes and began paving the way to build the legal infrastructure necessary for competing with other world cities. Today we are seeing many of the world’s largest law firms establishing international practices in South Florida to tap into this activity.
Q. Is it cheaper for a company to use arbitration than other legal remedies?
A. Generally, yes. Though all cities are not created equal and companies tend to gravitate toward affordability. For example, companies that arbitrate in Miami can expect to reduce expenses by as much as 60 percent by comparison with other cities such as New York, Paris and Hong Kong.
Q. Tell us about some of the kinds of cases you resolve in arbitration? Are there any particularly unusual, bizarre or juicy cases that come to mind?
A. Most of the arbitrations have involved disputes arising from commercial and distribution agreements and joint ventures. An interesting one involved the chartering of a casino gambling ship and another involved the purchase of several Gulfstream jets. On the investment side, I enjoyed serving on a tribunal at the International Council for the Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank in a dispute between a Spanish company and the Republic of El Salvador.
Q. What kind of credentials does someone need to be an arbitrator?
A. The vast majority of arbitrators are lawyers, but there are also subject-matter experts such as engineers, CPAs and actuaries.
Q. Tell us about the arbitration conference that is coming to Miami. How many people are expected, and why is it important?
A. Also known as the “World Cup of International Arbitration,” the International Council for Commercial Arbitration will bring more than 1,000 professionals and scholars from around the globe to Miami. This Congress is held every two years and this is only the second time it will be held in the U.S. in more than 50 years. Miami’s selection is recognition of the growing importance of our city as a world class center for international arbitration. And, like the arbitration industry as a whole, the conference will bring significant economic impact. The Congress is April 6-9, 2014 at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami.
Q. Can Miami really become a world arbitration center, and what would that mean? Does some entity designate a city as a center, or is it just a concentration of a practice? What are the benefits?
A. Miami is already a world-class center for arbitration, thanks in large part to our accessibility, affordability and strong legal infrastructure. Miami recently opened an international commercial arbitration court with judges trained to hear international arbitration matters, making it the second court of its kind in the U.S. We have seen a 160 percent uptick in international arbitration filings in Miami since 2010, according to the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and we believe that number will keep growing. Miami’s recent selection as the arbitration venue for the $1.6 billion dispute between the Panama Canal Authority and the Spanish consortium expanding the canal is a good example of how we are capturing some of the world’s most significant matters.
Q. On to more general matters. What’s the best advice you ever received in business?
A. My mother, who dealt a lot with lawyers, made me promise when I decided to become a lawyer “to return phone calls the same day.”
Q. What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?
A. I represented a woman who unwisely invested her life’s savings in an unfortunate laundry-mat venture. The contract appeared to be an air-tight binding agreement and I didn't really see any legal basis to get out of it. I, somewhat jokingly, advised her to camp out at the company president’s office, cry and plead for her money back. To my complete surprise, it worked. They returned her investment and she thought I was a great lawyer.
Q. Your mustache is something of a signature. What’s the story? How long have you had it? Have you ever shaved it off?
A. Over 45 years ago on a family vacation in Maine, I grew a full beard. My hair (I had hair then) was far darker. Apparently, I looked too much like the barbudos, or bearded revolutionaries in Cuba, so I shaved the beard off, but I retained the mustache, which has come to be a kind of trademark. I have never shaved it off, but it is a bit more “blond” now, according to my daughter, Lisa.
Q. Tell us one thing about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know.
A. I majored in folk songs and folk dances during my summer in 1948 at UNAM in Mexico City.