In the United States, if you think about the Mets, you will likely think of the famous New York baseball team. But for an expanding group of plaintiffs lawyers, it the name represents an emerging Puerto Rican basketball team originally founded in 1935, dissolved in 2015, but revived in 2019. One of the team’s owners enabling the jump start is Marc D. Grossman, who is also a senior partner at the plaintiffs firm Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman.
Puerto Rico’s recent Mets revival is a direct result of a perhaps unlikely phenomenon— the influx of plaintiffs firms to the island. Over the last few years, more and more firms have moved their offices, or large parts thereof, to this U.S. territory. It’s a trend that was propelled during the pandemic.
Grossman opened an office in San Juan in 2013 after regularly traveling there for depositions and client meetings relating to the Vioxx and Avandia litigations. Since then, “we had a huge influx of lawyers,” Grossman said. “I think we’re up to about 74 law firms now,” with 17 of them sponsoring the local basketball team. “It’s the hub of our social lives, we all come together, and go to the games, promote the team.”
The incentive to open up offices in Puerto Rico—apart from the warm weather and island ambiance—is a substantial tax break, as well as an abundance of local legal talent that views working for a mainland plaintiffs firm as a promising career path.
“The solution was export services,” Grossman said. The tax benefits only apply when you export your business or services to the states. “When you’re in Puerto Rico, you don’t pay federal tax.” In short: back-office support staff in the territory doing a lot of the heavy lifting, including document review for mass torts and class action cases in the U.S. mainland.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Napoli & Shkolnik partner Hunter Shkolnik said. He opened an office in Puerto Rico in 2017. “Within 90 days, we built our new office space, we had a team interviewing day after day.” The firm went from 55 people in 2018 to about 125 employees today and from a rented office space to the purchase of a downtown office building.
Grossman and Shkolnik both agree that Puerto Rico offers a highly qualified pool of legal workers. “We have doctors, nurses, environmental engineers on staff,” Shkolnik said. “We don’t outsource. We want our own nurses and doctors looking at medical records.”
Both firms have trained paralegal and attorney staff across borders. “It’s a great training opportunity,” Shkolnik said. As local attorneys learn how to take depositions in U.S. mass torts, “it’s remarkable how many are joining and learning how to litigate.”
“For back-office legal services, we used companies located in India and the Philippines and saw Puerto Rico as an opportunity to bring those jobs and more back to America,” Grossman said. As a result, the Milberg law firm started to invest heavily in an island that desperately needed an economic spark.
“We became kind of an incubator for other projects to help the community, including some charities plus the professional basketball team,” Grossman said. He has by now hired about 750 local staff for his law firm, as well as several other business ventures.
While the COVID pandemic and remote work structures may have made the transition to living and working in Puerto Rico easier, most firms still keep attorneys on staff on the U.S. mainland. “We have 120 lawyers stateside,” Grossman said. “We have the ability to cover cases everywhere.”
“We were already accustomed to getting on airplanes and going to where we had to go,” John Driscoll, founder of the Driscoll Law Firm, said. “You file a motion or a response to a motion electronically, I file from here,” he said. The pandemic has changed the practice of law, he added. While he lives and operates out of Puerto Rico, he still has a six-person office in St. Louis and is currently in the process of opening up another office in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I don’t think it’s been very much different from opening an office up anywhere,” he said, referring to his Puerto Rico operation. He still conducts case management meetings with judges on Zoom and takes a large part of his depositions via video call.
When Grossman relocated his office and family to Puerto Rico, he started running a simple Facebook group as a forum for other attorneys who were interested in making the move. In 2021, plaintiffs firms operating out of Puerto Rico founded the Trial Lawyers of Puerto Rico to help attorneys to build partnerships on the island.
The organization is currently working with the local law school on establishing an internship program and recently donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico to support the construction of a new building, which will have a health center, a school and an entrepreneurship program.