By Melissa C. Pallett-Vasquez
Miami has long been known for its tourism and hospitality industry, its booming real estate market and its diverse international population. Now, in the wake of Microsoft's announcement that it plans to open a state-of-the-art training facility in the Magic City, and several noteworthy events targeted specifically toward this rising industry, we can now add 'technology hub' to the mix.
The last several years have been a lead-up to Miami's emergence as a technology mecca. We've seen many startups, particularly from Latin America, open their headquarters here. In 2013, The Atlantic and The Atlantic Cities, in partnership with The Knight Foundation, launched Start-Up City: Miami, an event that explores the national urban tech revolution and its impact on South Florida. And just a few weeks ago, eMerge Americas, started by Miami businessman and former Terremark Worldwide owner Manny Medina, partnered with Chicago-based Techweek to host the first-ever eMerge Americas Techweek Conference, which gathered leading entrepreneurs and tech wizards for a week-long summit about Miami's rapidly developing technology ecosystem.
Evidence of the breakneck speed at which Miami has appeared onto the technology scene is in the numbers: “Miami raked in about $300 million in venture capital in 2013. That’s a huge jump from previous years; it puts Miami 16th among all U.S. metros.” InfoWorld, a leading source of information on emerging enterprise technologies, recently included Florida as No. 3 in its list of U.S. states with the highest number of IT firms.And over 6,000 people attended the inaugural eMerge Americas Techweek conference, greatly surpassing even the founders' goals of 5,000 attendees.
Bilzin Sumberg participated in the first-ever eMerge Conference, and was at the center of this exciting tech revolution. Among many interesting events, we attended a mayoral summit that hosted mayors and government officials from all over Latin America and Spain, and focused on exploring best practices and common challenges in creating smart and sustainable cities. As discussed at the summit, Miami is the gateway city to Latin America, and we expect an influx of innovative startups to set up shop here in Miami.
The arrival of tech pioneers to Miami will simultaneously make waves throughout the legal community, allowing us to further develop intellectual property practices that traditionally are more prevalent in areas with an established technology industry. Many tech startups will be looking for attorneys who not only have the legal know-how, but also the connections to help them get their venture off the ground. Indeed, throughout the eMerge Conference, we received many inquiries, including those specifically targeted to capital raising and intellectual property issues.
Of course, companies and individuals that choose to relocate or start up in the region will almost certainly require assistance with securing financing, structuring deals, customer agreements, and negotiating mergers & acquisitions and similar transactions. Corporate attorneys will also support the industry by assisting tech clients in transactions related to the procurement, sale, development and protection of their products and services. Additionally, tech clients will need extensive legal support with respect to intellectual property, including patent prosecution, enforcement and litigation, when necessary, as well as negotiating and structuring intellectual property license agreements.
Even real estate and land development attorneys will have their hands full with the tech sector's evolution into a major Miami industry. The growth of these companies and their movement into Miami means they will need to procure commercial and industrial properties. Tech companies will need assistance with leasing, purchasing and financing office space or warehouses, appropriate for their business and attractive to their target employees — think Google's campus in Silicon Valley, complete with a bowling alley, organic gardens that supply the campus restaurants with fresh produce and free campus bikes. Lawyers will need to be creative and think outside of the box for new ways to use the available space in Miami.
Additionally, tech companies will need lawyers who are well-versed with the local government and business community's practices and regulations, to help them navigate the local requirements and establish the necessary agreements to expand their businesses and extend their services to Miami residents. For example, telecommunications clients will require the appropriate government approvals and contracts in order to develop their networks. These companies will likely look to their government relations and land development attorneys for assistance in this area.
Tech clients are also going to expect their lawyers to be as tech-savvy as they are. In this regard, law firms will need to apply the tech industry's best practices to the way they manage their clients, incorporating project management techniques to promote efficiency and communication in the client-lawyer relationship. For example, new technologies such as Thomson Reuter's ENGAGE software help lawyers manage predictability by developing a road map for an engagement, which improves cost-efficiency for both the lawyer and the client. Successful representation of tech clients will likely require a lawyer's adaptability to the changing technology market, and its profound impact on the way businesses, including law firms, operate. Many lawyers have been reluctant to let go of the traditional practice model and haven't yet jumped on board with legal project management. Law firms that haven’t taken that plunge will likely be left behind.
Miami is no longer an emerging city, it has arrived — complete with major industries and a significant worldwide presence. The tech industry's growth is likely to catapult Miami to the next level and further cement its place as a major global city.
This article is reprinted with permission from Law360.