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Steel Hector & Davis.

An international resource for doing business in Latin America

Reflecting Miami's role as the financial and corporate touchstone of Latin America, the law firm of Steel Hector & Davis LLP is now the fulcrum for U.S., Latin American and European business ventures expanding across global borders.

From the basic building blocks of corporate law to the structuring of billion-dollar infrastructure projects, Steel Hector is increasingly being called upon as a resource for international business. The law firm, reaching the world from its home base in Miami and fully integrated overseas offices, has seen demand for its services grow across Latin America.

"Miami is the Hong Kong for Latin America," says Joseph P. Klock Jr., chairman and managing partner. "From Miami, we serve Latin American clients as well as U.S. companies, assuring them of the same level of service, quality, comfort, tempo and responsiveness they are accustomed to."

After a 10-year international expansion effort, Steel Hector today is uniquely positioned to help U.S. companies enlarge their operations into Latin America, to assist Latin companies to expand intra-regionally as well as into the United States and Europe, to work with government entities seeking to attract foreign capital for large projects, and to clear the way for European and Japanese clients who wish to invest in Latin American operations.

"Steel Hector is now completely transformed," says Miguel A. Zaldivar Jr., a partner in the firm. "Our Latin American clients feel completely at home with our expertise, but our U.S. clients also feel very comfortable handling their Latin America work with a law firm that knows the Latin culture and laws but operates in the standard practices of U.S. business."

A decade ago, as Miami matured into its geographical role as a gateway to Latin American business, Steel Hector began to focus beyond the demands of traditional corporate law. It committed its resources to develop an international civil law practice of attorneys experienced within Latin America and in the United States and Europe.

Over the past 10 years, it opened offices in Caracas, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Santo Domingo, bolstered by a fully integrated Miami-based team of civil lawyers specializing in the kinds of issues that arise in international business. From the basics of contract negotiations, tax concerns, labor laws and corporate structuring to the financing of large-scale infrastructure projects involving the public and private sector, Steel Hector today serves global clients with ease.

"Since we have so many offices in-region and around the world, people view us as having a high level of expertise," says Klock, who successfully represented Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris before the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts during the dispute of the U.S. presidential election results.

Adds Zaldivar: "We are a U.S. firm that is able to staff projects in Latin America with Latin American lawyers."

As the only Miami law firm routinely structuring multi-million-dollar infrastructure projects, Steel Hector today works with governments, multinational corporations and international investors in the energy, petrochemical, gas, telecommunications and aluminum sectors. For example, the firm is experienced with EPO (engineering/procurement/construction) work, helping clients through complexities like zoning, environmental issues, taxes and financing mechanisms.

Within Latin America, Steel Hector's projects include:

* A $650 million power plant in the Honduras, which will be the first manifestation of Central America's intent to unify its power grid. Burning clean liquid national gas (LNG), the plant will provide 780 megawatts of electricity to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

* A $2.3 billion petrochemical plant in Venezuela, where Steel Hector represents state-owned Pequiven in its joint venture negotiations with a major U.S. energy company.

* A 330-megawatt LP gas electrical generation plant in the Dominican Republic. Steel Hector, which has been involved in the $350 million project from the beginning, is providing services that will help draw investment from capital markets. "Having one law firm involved from the beginning increases quality control, reduces the cost to the clients and speeds up the process," notes Jose F. Valdivia Ill, a partner and member of the firm's board of directors.

Other examples of Steel Hector's work include a water desalination plant in Trinidad, the move of CITGO's Latin America marketing operations from Miami to Caracas, PDVSA's expansion into Brazil, and the Bauxilium-Pechinet aluminum consortium, which is building a $260 million disposal plant to minimize environmental impact on the Orinoco and Caroni rivers.

At the same time, the firm is providing legal services to private sector commpanies expanding their global reach, helping them to set up their corporate structure, forestall labor problems and enter safely into joint ventures with local companies.

"One of the biggest traps for companies entering Latin America is protective labor laws that restrict how they can manage their employees," says Valdivia. "We help them avoid these pitfalls from the beginning."

In addition to corporate law, Steel Hector is equipped to handle legal disputes wherever they may arise. For example, many litigants feel Miami is a more logical place for arbitration meetings than New York or Geneva, Valdivia says.

More than 75 attorneys work with international clients. They are bilingual or trilingual. Many are dual practitioners licensed to practice law in both the United States and a Latin American country. Two-thirds of the non-U.S. lawyers, all top graduates, have masters or law degrees from the United States, in addition to their home country, meaning they are fully equipped to handle transactions whether they occur Stateside or in Latin America. With the backing and resources of the Miami office, these lawyers and the firm are able to provide specific specialized services around the region. While other law firms have affiliations with local counsel in-country or outsource their work to local law firms, Steel Hector is able to provide a broad range of expertise and services in-house.

This approach suits the firm's unique corporate clientele. Among clients: Visa International, Pequiven, American Airlines, Tidewater and AES.

As Japanese investment in Latin America increases, Steel Hector's Japanese-speaking attorneys are easing the way. An office in London coordinates business interests in Europe. At the same time, the law firm is increasingly called to do work in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In the coming year, Steel Hector plans to increase its presence in Central America. Argentina and Bogota, Colombia, are also areas of interest.

"The opportunities are there," Klock says. "There is an increasing sense of recognition that the Latin American market is extremely important. We are pushing the envelope to link into that international way of thinking."
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Latin Trade
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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