Carlos Lago ’09, Focuses on Land use and Governmental Affairs

Carlos R. Lago, who received his Juris Doctor from the Florida International University College of Law in 2009, focuses his practice on land use, zoning and governmental affairs.

Lago recently discussed his career path and what led him to his current position at Greenberg Traurig.

What was your career path? What led you to your current position?

After law school, I worked in local government. I began at the city of Miami as a legislative aide for Commissioner Francis Suarez, advising him and working with staff members on land use and zoning matters, including the enactment and implementation of the city’s new zoning code, Miami 21.

That led me to Jackson Health System, where I was asked to serve as Chief of Staff to Jackson’s newly appointed President and CEO, Carlos Migoya. I was attracted to the opportunity to be a part of the financial turnaround of such an important public institution in South Florida. Prior to the new management’s arrival, Jackson had reported losses of more than $80 million in 2011, and by the following fiscal year, the health system had accumulated a surplus of more than $8 million.

After almost four years in the public sector, I felt a strong desire to apply what I learned to the practice of law. My experience had been in local government, so joining the Land Development Practice Group at the powerhouse law firm Greenberg Traurig was a natural match.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your work with land use, zoning and governmental affairs?

I enjoy the dual roles that my practice at Greenberg Traurig enables me to serve: as in litigation, you must be a zealous advocate for your client and as in most transactional practice areas, you must negotiate a mutually agreeable compromise for all parties involved, your client, the government entity, elected officials, and other stakeholders such as neighbors and business owners. It is also rewarding to see the tangible result of your efforts, such as an affordable housing development or a neighborhood-changing mixed-use project, and know that you contributed to its completion.

What are some of the challenges facing the land use/Governmental affairs sector, in terms of legal issues?

As local governments enact legislative changes, it is critical for them to fully anticipate how their decisions will affect economic growth, particularly considering the fluctuations and uncertainty of South Florida’s real estate market. The Great Recession and subsequent decline of the real estate market stalled development in South Florida for the past four years, and now that development is bouncing back, local governments have to be especially mindful of the likely impacts of their decisions.

What was one of your favorite law school classes, and why?

I definitely enjoyed Constitutional Law with Dean Leonard Strickman. It had been years since he had taught a class, and his vast experience gave him a lot of anecdotes to share with his students. For example, he helped draft the War Powers Resolution. You can’t get that type of first-hand knowledge anywhere.

What experiences at FIU Law helped prepare you for your career?

FIU’s extremely challenging “Legal Skills and Values” program helped me prepare for my career by greatly enhancing my critical-thinking skills. The research, writing and advocacy skills I acquired during the three-part course provided me with the foundation I need to successfully practice law. The courses present students with fact patterns for which there is no direct law on point and asks them to construct creative arguments by applying law and skill. Indeed, real life is never black or white, and attorneys must always be prepared for the grey.

What advice would you give people who are interested in pursuing a similar career path?

I recommend that people interested in pursuing similar career paths get involved in their communities by joining community organizations, working on political campaigns, or volunteering in charities in which they believe. The more exposure and experience they acquire in their communities, the stronger the relationships they will forge – and relationships are a critical key to success.

Why did you choose Greenberg Traurig in particular for the next phase of your career?

I chose Greenberg Traurig for the next phase of my career because the firm is a powerhouse with a significant footprint, strong relationships and a great team that really commits to the development of its attorneys. Associates at Greenberg Traurig work on complex legal issues under the supervision of experienced attorneys. This creates an amazing learning environment that prepares attorneys for the challenges of tomorrow. The history and legacy of the land use practice at Greenberg Traurig is exceptional. Bob Traurig was a huge figure in the development of South Florida and we continue to follow his fine example.

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