Changing Cuba-U.S. relations could open new doors for Cuban lawyers

By Carrie Salls | Aug 19, 2016

MIAMI – Recent developments regarding the relations between the United States and Cuba will likely have an impact on lawyers hoping to study and practice in the United States, as well as on how law schools prepare students for international engagements.


Marike Paulsson, who teaches international law courses at the University of Miami School of Law (UM Law), is the director of the International Arbitration Institute at UM Law and is part of the faculty for the White & Case International Arbitration LL.M program, said UM Law offers many international Master of Laws (LL.M) programs.


Over the years, Paulsson said many Latin-American and Cuban students have come to Miami to obtain their LL.M and many of those have transferred to the Juris Doctor program to remain in the United States and work as lawyers here. She said some of these students had qualified in Cuba first and now practice in the United States.


“UM Law has over the years provided a home to those from Cuba,” Paulsson told the Florida Record. “Of course, with the new developments, they will best be able to assist clients in investing in Cuba with adequate protection for foreign investors.”


Paulsson said the Florida Bar International Law Section has already sent a delegate to Cuba to engage in a dialogue with the community there. Also, Paulsson said International Council Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) and UM Law’s International Arbitration Institute have conducted roadshows in Miami, Latin America and the Bahamas, opening a series of judicial dialogues to discuss proper application of international law and the New York Convention by national judges.


In addition, Paulsson said the university will now be researching Cuba’s international legal attitude.


Aymee Valdivia, an associate at Holland & Knight LLP, graduated with highest honors from the University of Havana’s Faculty of Law in June 1998. She worked as in-house counsel for Cuban bank Banco Popular de Ahorro and as in-house counsel for Corporacion Finanaciera Habana, SA until she came to the United States in 2005. Valdivia began law school at the University of Miami in August 2007.


In March 2010, Valdivia began her career in the United States as an associate in the Holland & Knight’s International & Cross Border and Transactions Group in the Miami office, where she has been working since then. Valdivia is also a member of Holland & Knight’s Cuban Action Team. In addition, Valdivia said she has devoted most of her time for the last year and a half to Cuba-related matters.


Valdivia said she did not know when she decided to leave Cuba whether she would be able to study law again and become a lawyer in the United States.


“I knew that I and my family could have a better future outside of Cuba, from both a professional and a personal perspective,” Valdivia told the Florida Record.


Years before she decided to leave Cuba, Valdivia said she realized that she was not in control of her future. For example, she said she could be working one day at a very good job for a joint venture and the next day be asked to move to another position.


“There were not only economic reasons, but also the idea of having control of my future, of being able to develop as a professional in my career without being involved in politics and without having to pretend to be in agreement with certain policies,” Valdivia said. “I wanted simple things (such as) being able to go on vacation to other countries without having to ask permission to the Cuban government, and being able to pay for those vacations with my salary. I guess that I was looking for liberty, opportunities and for a better life. I have found all these in the U.S.”


Valdivia said she hopes more Cuban lawyers will have the same opportunities she has had.


“I hope that with the development in the relationship between the two countries, more Cuban lawyers can come to study in the U.S., or even to spend time as foreign interns in U.S. law firms and then go back to continue their careers in Cuba,” Valdivia said.

Valdivia said lawyers like her, who have lived in Cuba and practiced law there, offer a unique perspective to U.S. clients interested in doing business in Cuba.


“My experience as a Cuban trained/licensed lawyer, my knowledge of the Cuban legal system and culture, and my contacts on the island bring a unique, practical perspective on how to do business in Cuba as well as in identifying and overcoming the challenges that exist,” Valdivia said.


However, Valdivia said the Cuban government does not currently allow those who have left the country to resume practicing law in Cuba. She said she hopes that changes in the future.

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