My 127 Hours in Miami – an AAJ travelogue
Despite the last minute cancellation of the International Practice Section meeting – one of the major reasons for overseas members attending – a record turnout of nearly 1600 assured the success of last week’s winter Convention of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) in Miami.
I departed Brisbane midday Sunday and arrived in Miami, via Los Angeles, at 5 pm the same day. Having missed the first day of meetings and the opening reception the night before, I had to keep up a brisk pace to fit everything in over the next 5 days.
It was Super Bowl Sunday. The taxi from MIA had dropped me at the well located but less than salubrious, Parisian hotel. After a drying off from a quick shower with the hotel’s threadbare towels and an hour on the laptop – the working week was already underway in Brisbane – I took a taxi back across the causeway to a pub in downtown Miami where I had arranged to watch the match with friend, colleague and renowned medical malpractice attorney, Randy Reinhardt of Milwaukee. Randy spoke at a memorable APLA (now ALA) annual conference at the Mariott Surfers Paradise in 2004.
One hour of American football field time takes four hours to complete. That also means four times my usual single match-time schooner. After the popular Green Bay Packers win – in the end comfortably by 6 points – I cabbed it to my first convention event: the NLD (new lawyer’s division) party at Cameo nightclub on Washington Avenue in South Beach.
It was well under way when I arrived. A quick hand shake with former president and many time ALA speaker Les Weisbrod at the bar and a chat to stalwart Mike Hugo, saw me out and I decided to call it a night.
The next morning I made a hotel change. At 8.00am, I wheeled my luggage directly across Collins Ave to the Royal Palm, on the beach and next door to the convention hotel – Loews South Beach – but at half its price. I reserved an 11th floor ocean front room for 5 nights, left my bags with the porters and rushed to my first session.
Monday morning’s Advocacy Track subject was “story development”: trial themes, keywords, mind maps, REPTILE and the like. Completely irrelevant, I can hear you say, in judge-alone trials to which we are accustomed down under. Not really: if the potential quantum can warrant it, all these devices can be useful tools of persuasion even in our courtrooms.
The International Practice and the Aviation sections were both scheduled for 1pm, fortunately on opposite sides of the hall. Bruno Paris (Paris) and 2009 Penguin Award recipient Marc Weingarten (PA) were already waiting outside the I.P. meeting room when I arrived to see a “cancelled” stamp over the meeting details on the program board.
Clash resolved, I joined the aviation section meeting and greeted many long standing colleagues including Kriendler New York attorney, Dan Rose. As they are for all section and litigation group meetings, the discussions are completely confidential.
Then back to the Royal Palm to check-in and after briefly quickly admiring the fabulous outlook on to Miami Beach from the balcony, I was on the laptop to catch up on work and discuss progress with my team. This led me to miss the Civil Justice Foundation Reception at cocktail hour. After shutting down, I was just able to catch one drink at a lawn party at Loews held by one of the convention exhibitors where I spotted famous Chicago family lawyer, Mike Minton.
I was fortunate to receive a dinner invitation from Mike Slack and Ladd Sanger of Dallas aviation law firm Slack & Davis for their event at the famous Emeril’s at the St Moritz (the top-end annex to Loews). It was a real pleasure to meet and chat with fellow guests: George Machin (FL), Richard Dodd (TX), Mike Doyle (TX), Matthew Logue (PA) and of course our Slack & Davis hosts.
A fabulous night and lots of fun was brought to an abrupt and sobering end by tethering once again to office for Tuesday afternoon email traffic, correspondence and the usual queries.
I woke to a spectacular Tuesday morning in Miami: a light land breeze and every hint of warming to about 26C.
With no time to spare for the view, I was quickly out the hotel door at once confirming how great the day looked and felt. Once down the hedged driveway and briskly to the right along Collins, I scooted up past the Loews’ valets and porters into the lobby.
Howard Nations – a famously articulate and persuasive Houston trial lawyer I remembered from my first convention in 1994 and who has been doing trial work “since before Columbus found the Americas” – had already begun a customarily outstanding delivery on overcoming bias against personal injury claimants and their lawyers.
Office deadlines pulled me back to the hotel room for a couple more hours of work. I took a few minutes though to appreciate the serene outlook from the balcony: the hazy horizon, a glassy blue ocean, 100m wide white beach, sun lounges and beach umbrellas sparsely platooned in their differing hotel livery – bright Miami Dolphin orange directly in front, navy blue to the left and so on up and down the beach.
I sat at the desk and let the outside drift in – between emails and document mark ups – the gentle wave break, the wafting laughter from the playing children at the shore, the warmth in the air and drone of descending aircraft bringing in their cargos of travellers anxious to meld into the splendid scenery. (The approachs to the parallel 26 runways at MIA are high over the Miami Beaches).
At 12:30 precisely I was jolted from my finishing touches to a very courteous rule 444 demand – and my reverie of my perfect Mediterranean vacation – by an email from Tom Young reminding me that I had to be at slip C18 at Miami Beach Marina for a 12:45 ocean cruise.
I was out the hotel front door in two minutes. After settling into a cab hailed down on Collins, I faxed the demand I had been working on from my iPhone and soon after my Haitian driver pulled in to the marina. Hatians now appear to dominate that and similar industries unlike my last visit in 2002 when, you may be interested to know, the Australian dollar bought only US 57c as compared to today’s parity.
Tom Young heads up Tampa based consumer safety group, Injury Board. I first met Tom at Injury Board’s screening of Susan Saladoff’s feature documentaery Hot Coffee in San Francisco in 2009. We have been corresponding about safety issues since and it was a real delight to meet up with him and Patrick and Nick, aboard the 54’ game boat Island Soul.
If at all possible, the already spectacular day was even more perfect with a Heineken in hand, a deck underfoot, blue calm sea in all directions, Miami Beach off the port side and great company: a perfect way, as they say, to mix business with pleasure by comparing strategies with colleagues like Michael Phelan (VA), James Krenis (TN), Roy Turner (VA), Greg Eiesland (SD) and Claire Wilkinson (Ontario).
Tom’s crew got us all back to the Marina very well fed, well watered and above all, reinvigorated.
Once back at the Royal Palm, it was time to check in via VPN & RDP for Wednesday’s start in Brisbane. I dragged myself away from the desk about 5pm for a walk to the beach and my first swim. The Atlantic was much warmer than southern Queensland in our non-summer months.
Right on the dot of 11pm at the official end of the reception, the pool was opened to Miamians and they came in impressive numbers and dress styles: Tuesday as it turns out, is the Delano’s night of the week among competing hotels and nightclubs, so it was some party.
Wednesday was the final day of the convention. After taking in a morning session on the how social media can be used for case preparation, the Board of Governors meeting got underway at 1pm.
President, Gibson Vance chaired the 4 hour meeting of 100 or so board members which worked through both internal administrative issues as well as political action objectives. Then followed the final event – a post meeting reception for board members in the president’s suite.
Great to see again there, former president and APLA speaker Rich Hayley as well as aviation lawyer and former president Anthony Tarricone and our Nevada co-counsel Herb Friedman.
Off to dinner at – in the tradition of Miami cool – the completely unsigned STK restaurant (I had been looking for ‘Estique’ which made finding it quickly even more difficult) at the Ganesvoort Miami Beach, where the truffles were liberally sprinkled on my snapper and seven apparent models at the next table, were being entertained by one host. I had an after dinner drink at the roof top pool and bar – Plunge – that I am told hosts a wild daytime sun-lounge and cabana scene.
Although the convention was now over, for me there was still 3 days before my flight home. Thursday was equal parts laptop, beach – it was windy but warm – and shopping.
Friday was surprisingly cold. I hired a car and broke my stay in Miami by driving via route 1 and the I95 to Del Ray Beach to meet up with my 15yr old brother-in-law and 24 yr old sister-in-law.
Farewelling them after an early dinner at Deck 84 – which is on the Intercoastal Waterway – a 4800km shipping channel that runs the entire length of the eastern seaboard - and missing with some disappointment the Del Ray Beach Garlic Fest that opened that evening, I headed over to Boca Raton to meet up with famous personal injury attorney and our Florida co-counsel, Paul Finizio. It was great to see Paul again – I had last seen him on his visit to Brisbane in 2007.
My return to South Beach was via the Florida Turnpike. The $2.50 toll was well worth it, shaving about 30 min and bringing me into South Beach at 17th Street after only 55 mins, right where I needed to be.
Exhausted, I had dinner and a beer a short walk from the hotel, in the touristy Espanola Way. Friday night in Miami was already Saturday in Brisbane so I could afford to stay unconnected. I enjoyed just one Friday evening night-cap at the Delano before heading back to the hotel for bed.
Checking out at midday, and my bags with the porters, I wandered from the Royal Palm towards Lincoln Road. It was even cooler on Saturday, getting up to only 16C – a rare event in Miami.
I meandered up and down Lincoln before stopping for some well needed nourishment at Sushi Samba. Then with a taxi back to the hotel, my luggage retrieved, I continued on to MIA for a 6pm departure to Los Angeles for the midnight flight to Brisbane.
I hit the recline buttons at top of climb out of Los Angeles, skipped dinner and managed a good seven hour sleep before waking refreshed and in time to get in a movie before breakfast.
Arriving 30 min prior to schedule at 7:05am, Brisbane International airport was quiet on Valentine’s Day Monday morning.
The cab driver to the city updated me on all the important events I had missed and was especially vocal about insurance companies refusing claims by flood survivors. He dropped me at my Charlotte Street office where I showered and began a new week, Miami now a very satisfying memory of a well worthwhile journey.