ICCA Congress Cements Miami As Arbitration Hub

by Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP
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Every two years the top international arbitration professionals and legal scholars from around the globe gather at the International Council for Commercial Arbitration’s Congress, or “ICCA Congress,” as it is commonly known, to discuss the latest topics and trends in the field. For the first time since the 1980s, the ICCA Congress returned to the United States. The event took place in Downtown Miami from April 6 through April 9 at the InterContinental hotel. More than 1,000 people attended this year’s event.  In fact, this was the largest Congress in its history.  Miami being chosen as the city to host the event is recognition of Miami’s rise as an important international arbitration venue, joining the ranks of cities like New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

Propelling its rise to international arbitration stardom is the fact that Miami has emerged as Latin America’s destination of choice for the resolution of complex, high value commercial disputes. The rapid growth of the Latin American economies and their growing acceptance of arbitration as a form of alternative dispute resolution (in part, because it is able to provide a greater degree of privacy and confidentiality than a public court proceeding) has fueled a substantial increase in the referral of disputes to arbitration in recent years. The International Center for Dispute Resolution reports that 128 arbitrations were filed in Miami in 2013, compared to only 49 in 2010. The expectation is that filings will far exceed that number in 2014, with the creation of the International Arbitration Court in the Miami Dade County Circuit Court. And, these numbers do not reflect arbitrations filed with the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”), another popular institution for resolving important international disputes.

The fact that Miami is the seat of such important, multi-billion dollar, international disputes (such as the Panama Canal arbitration) speaks volumes about the city’s emergence as a top venue for Latin American disputes. While the range and extent of advantages to conducting international arbitrations in South Florida are vast, Miami provides a strategic geographic location, a welcoming and fostering environment, and a similar culture.

A New Destination for International Arbitration

An important factor in determining the location of any arbitration is the convenience of the location. A location that is inconvenient, expensive or unsafe will affect the availability of counsel, arbitrators and witnesses. Because of its proximity to Latin America, Miami is privy to one of the most strategic locations in the world for arbitrations involving Latin America. Miami has a multilingual and multicultural workforce; experienced and bilingual court reporters, stenographers and videographers; world-class hotels and an ever-expanding international airport with connections throughout the world. In fact, Miami has more direct flights to Latin America than any of the other important arbitration cities like New York, London, Paris or Hong Kong. And, considering that the cost of services and the legal rates in Miami can be up to 60 percent lower than in any of the other traditional international arbitration venues, Miami is an absolute bargain.

Miami presents a fully trilingual environment in which Latin Americans feel as though they are — as indeed often is the case — in their second home. Many South Florida attorneys speak Spanish and Portuguese, and are able to handle all aspects of an international arbitration in English, Spanish or Portuguese, or any combination of the three languages. But, perhaps more importantly, local practitioners understand the culture. Understanding the Latin American culture is more than just about speaking the language. The ability to understand the extent to which cultural norms affect concepts of fairness, patterns of negotiation or even beliefs regarding the proper method of resolving disputes are just as important to a successful arbitration.

Given the range of advantages to conducting international arbitration in Miami, it is no wonder that the city was chosen to welcome ICCA back to the United States. Offering a familiar legal framework, a supportive infrastructure, and a bench and bar committed to fostering South Florida’s role as an international arbitration center-at a fraction of the cost of the more traditional arbitration venues-Miami was the logical choice.

This article is reprinted with permission from Law360.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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