Diversity Embedded In A Law Firm's Practice Serves Clients' Needs

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor:Your firm has a very enlightened approach to diversity. Is there some special reason for this?

Diaz-Arrastia: The firm is one of DuPont's Primary Law Firms (PLF). DuPont places great emphasis on diversity and we are actively involved in its programs. For example, I have attended the DuPont Annual Minority Counsel Conference and have been active in its Minority Counsel Network. This Network is made up of a number of committees and until very recently I was co-chair of the Marketing and Networking Committee. We have also been working on a directory of minority lawyers employed by firms within the DuPont Network. And, we always participate in DuPont's annual minority law students' job fair in Houston.

I have also been very involved in the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA). Ramona Romero of DuPont Legal is its national President and we are eager to help make her term a great success. At the October 2007 HNBA Conference in Puerto Rico, I presented a paper on representing Latin American clients in the United States. Our major outreach activity is support of the HNBA which is a member of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Editor: I understand that you and others in your firm live and breathe diversity because it also plays an important role in your practice.

Diaz-Arrastia: Our litigation practice involves representing Latin American as well as U.S. clients in U.S. courts. DuPont is a major client. As a DuPont Primary Law firm, we represent them mainly in Texas. The work we do for DuPont includes litigation in the U.S. relating to their Latin American operations.

For other clients, like Dow Chemical Company, we have worked in Central and Latin America with their local counsel. We help Dow select local counsel and assist local counsel in handling the case. Recently, we had a rather interesting case. We represented a Mexican professional soccer team that was sued in the U.S. The client, based in Mexico, is the famous soccer club called Club America.

Editor: Has your firm expanded its ability to serve clients who need the services of a Spanish speaking lawyer?

Diaz-Arrastia: We recently hired a lawyer, William Russell, who is a specialist in international arbitration. This is a nice fit with our international litigation practice. We added the international arbitration capability to help clients anywhere in the United States, Latin America and at times in Europe - mainly in London. ADR is becoming very popular with clients who mistrust local courts.

Will is entirely fluent in Spanish. Although he was born in the United States, he spent a great deal of time studying in Spain and Mexico. He assists me with many of our Latin American cases in communicating with the clients and reviewing documents written in Spanish. That is one of the great benefits that our firm can offer the client. Litigation in Latin America requires being able to read the key documents in Spanish. We are also able to communicate with Spanish speaking witnesses, who although they might have a working knowledge of the English language, are not proficient enough to be able to testify in court in English. In our firm we have a bilingual staff which in addition to the attorneys includes bilingual receptionists, secretaries and paralegals. Our international arbitration and litigation practice is bilingual.

Editor: Do you and your partners travel extensively?

Diaz-Arrastia: Yes, our passports show many, many stamps. Mexico is still where most of our foreign clients are located. We have expanded into Central America. Last year, I spent a lot of time in Costa Rica and Guatemala and lesser amounts of time in Nicaragua and El Salvador. A large percentage of our Mexican business came as a result of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Mexico and the United States that increased business contact between the two countries. With the coming of CAFTA, we foresee something similar happening with Central America and have positioned ourselves there. Having a Latin background (I was born in Cuba), I am able to speak Spanish and correspond in Spanish. Advising clients in their mother tongue is a huge advantage that our firm can offer clients.

Editor: Do you help Dow select Latin American firms and then work with them when Dow has litigation in Latin America?

Diaz-Arrastia: Yes, we provide the element of consistency to the handling of their cases in Latin America . We review everything. The filings that are made in Central America and Latin America are forwarded to us. We then review them and discuss with local counsel how to respond. Here in the U.S. we can be the lead counsel, but because we are not licensed abroad we cannot be the lead counsel there. Nevertheless, we become very involved in their cases.

We spend a lot of time with Dow's local counsel helping them to understand the case, how Dow's business operates and its culture, and share our experience in defending similar cases. We help local counsel find counterparts of the defenses and legal theories developed in the United States that can be applied in Nicaragua's, Venezuela's or Guatemala's legal systems. It is an exercise in comparative law analysis.

Editor: How does your firm's diversity assist in your dealings with Latin American clients?

Diaz-Arrastia: Latin American clients are very receptive to U.S. lawyers that are able to speak Spanish and have the ability to understand their business objectives and to relate on a cultural level. Lawyers of a diverse background can be very valuable. Lawyers who look like their clients and think like them have a great advantage in building a practice and in meeting clients' legal needs.

This chemistry works in areas within the U.S. that have a dominantly Hispanic population. In South Texas most people speak fluent English as well as Spanish. We believe that we can handle litigation there much more effectively than a less diverse firm. The fact that our lawyers are bilingual can make a real difference because they are better able to relate to those involved in a litigation.

Editor: Does being a DuPont PLF help you find new clients?

Diaz-Arrastia: Being able to tell a prospective client that we represent DuPont gives us instant credibility, Everybody has heard of DuPont even if they might not be aware of its PLF program. They know it is an important and leading company in its industry and in business generally.

Many U.S. companies prefer to hire law firms committed to diversity. As a DuPont PLF, they know we are committed to diversity, but it goes far beyond that. They also know that we are part of a system designed to produce the best results for the client in terms of the use of cutting edge technology and access to DuPont Primary Service Providers and other PLFs. This Network working together provides access to all the specialties and services available to the largest law firms and its members look for ways to serve the client most effectively. DuPont as part of its partnering philosophy actively solicits other companies to enjoy the benefits of using the member firms of the DuPont Legal Network and many of the services available to them. For example, when I needed to make an appearance for another client in court in Canada, I was able to turn to a Canadian PLF that was glad to help me.

Please email the interviewee at gdarrastia@sdablaw.comwith questions about this interview.