October 31, 2014

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Icon: Cesar L. Alvarez

Executive chairman, Greenberg Traurig law firm; Miami; age 63

| 2/1/2011

Cesar Alvarez
[Photo: Nick Garcia]
» When you graduate from law school, you really don't know how to do anything. You're dealing with human beings. And the only thing that makes you a very good lawyer is having been through so many human experiences.

» I would probably work anywhere from 2,600 to 2,800 billable hours a year. And to work 2,600 to 2,800 billable hours, you're working seven days a week. You can't even get them to do 1,800 hours nowadays. I didn't have a balance of life. I wanted to eat two meals a day at least. That was my balance of life.

» I'm not a trial lawyer. I'm a compromiser. I am a business individual. I actually wanted to be an investment banker. So I got my MBA, but then my brother started law school and I said, ‘You know, that may not be a bad idea.'

» Mel Greenberg is the first guy here in south Florida to figure out the Cubans weren't going back anytime soon. I was going to the University of Florida at the time. He called me and he said, ‘Would you like to come down? Send me a resume.' So he paid my way down and I came. And he said, ‘Hi, Carlos, how are you?' And I said, this is a hell of a start. Now the reason he was calling me Carlos was because, I think, he was actually trying to hire my brother Carlos, who was an All-American football player at the University of Florida.

» I was the 13th lawyer. We're a little north of 1,800 (now).

» Castro came in Jan. 1, 1959. We left June 28, 1960. I was 13. So I was just awakened on a Tuesday morning. ‘We're going to the United States on vacation. Get dressed.' There used to be a ferry that would go from Havana to Key West. As we're leaving Havana harbor, I happen to glance at my mother and my father and they're looking towards Havana and they have tears in their eyes. Within a week, my father sat us down and told us, ‘This is your new country. ... Always be proud where you came from. Be proud that you're Cuban. Be proud you're Hispanic. But this is your new country. Assimilate, learn the language, learn their values, and you're going to be an American now.' And that was it. That was a tough thing to hear.

» It's interesting people don't understand what winning is. Is winning that lawsuit really winning? Because even if you spent seven or eight years doing that, it will distract your entire life. It will take you off course.

» Any lawyer can tell you, ‘I will sue for you.' It's the lawyer who will analyze it for you and tell you when it's good for you to sue and when it's not good for you to sue — that is the lawyer you really want to have in your life.

» I feel as an underdog that I've got to be better.

» I'll tell you a funny story about feeling complacent. We were having an executive committee meeting of the firm in Washington. Our Washington office is catty-corner to the White House. We were having dinner at a very private club. I go in and one of the members looks at me coming in and gives me a $5 bill and says, ‘Can you get me a cab?' I literally went and hailed the cab. I in fact got the $5 bill because I know how hard it is to make $5. I thought it was funny.

» When you are an immigrant group like the Cubans here, the first amount of power that you get is political power because all you need to do is register to vote. Power in the business community and in social circles takes a hell of a lot longer. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Jewish community. They were the ones that would try to get us into boards and social circles and invited us to things.

» We were not an AmLaw 100 firm at all when I started managing the firm in 1997, and we made it to the top 10. Sometimes in life to be successful, you have to be a little too dumb to listen to all the folks who tell you what you can and cannot do.

» When we needed to create a law school in the Hispanic community (at FIU), they pitted the African-American community and the Hispanic community. After a year of this we said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, why don't we get together and we'll have two law schools?' Why is a law school important? If you think about it, lawyers tend to have a disproportionate amount of influence on what happens in society. If whatever communities you are in are not properly represented in the legal system, you will never have equal representation ultimately.

» Anybody who tries to limit you, generally, are the closest people to you. It's your mama, your father, your best friend who doesn't want you to try that because if you fail, you're going to be hurt and we don't want anybody hurt. In our society, everybody has to have a blue ribbon. God forbid anybody is hurt doing something.

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