Q&A With Bilzin Sumberg's Al Dotson

Originally Published in Law360, March 13, 2013.

Albert E. Dotson Jr. is a partner in Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP's Miami office and leader of the firm's government relations and land development practice. He handles federal and local government procurement contracts and compliance. He also represents real estate developers in securing land use, zoning and other government approvals and permits for large-scale real estate developments. He routinely negotiates economic development incentive programs on behalf of U.S. corporate clients. In 2009, he was chosen as a member of the Florida Judicial Nominating Commission, a statewide panel charged with selecting finalists for presidential appointments to district judgeships, U.S. Attorneys and U.S. marshals, and was reappointed in 2011 to a second two-year term.

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: One of the most challenging matters in which I am involved is the Miami Beach Convention Center redevelopment project — where I represent one of the finalists bidding on the project before the city of Miami Beach. This is the largest public-private partnership to date in Miami-Dade County and, from a technical standpoint, involves multiple layers of expertise, including government contracting, issues related to requests for proposals, as well as a number of land use and real estate issues (redevelopment of real property).

Adding to the complexity are a number of community relations and political considerations, such as ensuring that the project is compatible with existing uses and responsive to concerns of current residents. Compound all of this into an aggressive timeframe and with the backdrop of a mayoral election in the city of Miami Beach and search for a new city manager.

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: Local governmental agencies are moving away from strict contracts for goods and services to more of a partnership relationship with the companies they do business with. As a result, the mechanisms that are used by government to bid out for projects, negotiate transactions and understand financing complexities must evolve along with that. For the first time, the private and public sectors are truly working together to find creative ways to finance major public works projects — creating a win-win for both.

Q: What is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why?

A: The financing and structuring of public-private partnerships remain important issues. Awareness continues to grow for the emerging trend of public-private partnerships, but many still lack an understanding of its application on a broad scale. The more that the private sector and civic community learn how to implement these types of partnerships, the more they can maximize its benefits.

Q: Outside your own firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why?

A: Miguel De Grandy [of Miguel De Grandy PA]. The practice of government contracting requires a number of legal disciplines including transactions, government and real estate. But beyond that, one must know how to effectively manage personal and community relationships, as well as public policy and politics. Working in this sensitive and complex arena does not take place in a silo and Miguel has the exceptional ability to navigate and balance these issues with grace and ease.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: I learned that in our area it is not simply good enough to have the law on your side in order to win. In order to be effective, you need to master at least the following four areas: (1) a strong understanding of the law, (2) public policy and how to be responsive to the priorities of elected officials, (3) command of the facts, (4) a general grasp of the politics taking place and how to navigate around them.