MIAMI – An international arbitral tribunal in Miami heard the first claim in the multibillion-dollar Panama Canal dispute last month, promoting Miami's growth as an international arbitration hub.
The expanded Panama Canal opened in July, three years behind schedule. The dispute revolves around the project being over budget by at least $1.6 billion and is between the agency that operates the canal and construction companies. The first case is linked to the location of a temporary dam. The parties reached an agreement but were unable to resolve underlying disputes.
“Miami has become a new hub for arbitration,” said Marike Paulsson, director of the International Arbitration Institute at the University of Miami School of Law. “It is important to understand that the parties decided to have Miami as the legal seat of arbitration and also the physical seat. We are hosting international lawyers and arbitrators and it puts Miami on the map.”
While leading arbitration hubs include London, Paris, New York and Washington, D.C., Paulsson said that the Miami arbitration community has an advantage because it can tailor to bilingual work related to Latin America.
Although there were no Miami lawyers involved in the Panama arbitration, Paulsson said Miami has many lawyers that have vibrant arbitration practices, not only with arbitrations in Miami but also in Latin America and elsewhere.
In 2014 Paulsson launched the International Arbitration Institute at the University of Miami School of Law, which conducts research in international arbitration and offers lectures and practitioners courses. That same year Miami hosted the International Council for Commercial Arbitration conference. In addition, the Miami International Arbitration Society is an organization that promotes the use of arbitration.
“Miami's arbitration community has its own stars,” Paulsson said. She noted Jose Astigarraga, Dan Gonzalez (partner with Hogan Lovells), Quinn Smith (founding partner of GST LLP), and an arbitration-friendly judiciary.
“Miami is not just another hub for arbitration—it is a breeding ground for the next generation of leading international arbitration lawyers, a platform for thought leadership, and a home to researchers and visiting professors,” Paulsson said.