Raquel Rodriguez - The Scientist
Raquel Rodriguez Helps Build Florida’s Life Sciences Cluster
As a 7th and 8th grader in Miami’s “Roads” neighborhood, Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez planned to become a marine biologist. Instead, she decided to pour her energy and intellect into the practice of law. But she never abandoned her love of science, with far-reaching results for the State of Florida.
“One of the key sectors I serve is the life sciences,” says Rodriguez, who is the managing member of McDonald Hopkins’ Miami office. “It’s a personal passion for me, and a growing part of our region’s economy.”
As general counsel for Governor Jeb Bush from 2002 to 2006, Rodriguez helped smooth the way for the establishment of The Scripps Research Institute’s scientific facility in Jupiter by conceiving and co-drafting the enabling legislation and negotiating a $310 million economic incentive grant.
“I remember learning about the Scripps deal on my birthday, and having until the next morning to come up with the legal structure,” she says. “Scripps needed the certainty of receiving incentive funding before it would agree to come here. At the same time, the state’s interest had to be protected.”
Rodriguez’s solution was to create a non-profit Scripps Florida Funding Corporation with board members appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president. The Governor’s Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development then signed a funding agreement with the nonprofit, which would hold the funds, monitor Scripps’ performance and disburse funds based on certain milestones.
“Everyone was happy with that arrangement, and we were able to negotiate the material terms of the agreement in advance of the Scripps special session to ensure that the legislation and the business terms aligned with each other,” Rodriguez says. That nonprofit structure became the template for the state’s 2006 incentives that brought Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to Orlando, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies to Port St. Lucie and Stanford Research Institute to St. Petersburg, as well as others in later years.
“Rocky served tirelessly as general counsel to Governor Jeb Bush,” says Denver Stutler, Jr., who was the governor’s chief of staff and is now CEO of Polston Applied Technologies, LLC. “As an attorney, Rocky is very bright, fiercely loyal, and tenacious in pursuit of fair and judicious outcomes. She always sought ‘how to’ accomplish her client’s objectives rather than ‘why not’. Rocky was always supportive of everyone on the team and their efforts.”
A Family Tradition
Law is a family tradition for Rodriguez, who was born in Miami Beach to Cuban political exile parents. Her father Roberto was a lawyer who had been one of the youngest representatives ever elected to Cuba’s Congress in the early 1950s. After Castro’s takeover in 1959, her father sought asylum in the Honduran embassy, and was eventually reunited with her mother in Miami. Rodriguez’s mother, Raquel, was a homemaker who later became an acclaimed poet, publishing several well-received books of poetry.
“I had many interests as a child but I always loved the ocean,” Rodriguez says. “In the mid-1970s, there was a federal budget crisis and a National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist told us at Career Day there weren’t many jobs available in that field. At that point, I decided to think about a career in international affairs. Even then, I took all the science courses my high school offered.” As an undergraduate at the University of Miami, she designed a curriculum to prepare for a graduate program in foreign affairs. “But I got hooked on law when I served as a juror in a mock trial,” she recalls. “I knew I wanted to get into the courtroom myself.”
Rodriguez soon got her chance to get involved in trial work. After earning her law degree at UM in 1985, she was hired by Greenberg Traurig, and quickly became a partner, handling a variety of litigation matters. “I’ve seen quite a transformation in South Florida’s legal profession in the past 30 years,” she says. “When I started I was often the only woman or Hispanic attorney in the courtroom,” she says. “Today, that’s definitely not the case.”
Rodriguez also became active in regional, state and national legal organizations, and was elected chair of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, helping her build a nationwide and global professional network.
One of her ABA friends introduced Rodriguez to Multilaw, a London-based global association serving member law firms from all over the world. Rodriguez was hired as executive director and served for two years, traveling the world and commuting between Miami and London. She returned to Miami in 1999 to support her father in caring for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in 2001. She rejoined Greenberg Traurig, and became involved with George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, as one of the lead lawyers for the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County during the post-election recount battle.
In 2002, Rodriguez was recruited to serve as Bush’s general counsel, and relocated to Tallahassee but commuted frequently to Miami. After the end of the governor’s term in 2007, she joined McDermott Will & Emery as a partner, and returned to private practice. In 2011, she opened the Miami office for Cleveland-based McDonald Hopkins, reuniting with her former Greenberg Traurig colleague John Metzger, who had opened the firm’s West Palm Beach office in 2004.
Since then, Rodriguez has grown the firm’s Miami office to seven attorneys and is moving to new space in downtown Miami with room for another ten lawyers and expansion rights to accommodate potentially 20 more. “I like building and creating things,” she says. “All out-of-town firms have a challenge here, but we have a great opportunity to make a mark in this legal community.”
When Rodriguez is not busy with her practice or managing the office, she enjoys baseball and follows the Miami Marlins. She also likes to spend time on the beach, traveling and reading history books like “Empire of the Summer Moon,” an account of how the Comanches were defeated in the American west, a gift from one of the scientists at a client institute.
A Diverse Practice
Today, Rodriguez focuses her practice on three areas: litigation, including election law; government affairs, primarily related to economic development; and outside general counsel work. She has advised clients involved in disputes or transactions involving Latin America, and counseled clients with respect to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the USA Patriot Act and Inter-American Bank anti-corruption investigations.
She’s also stayed true to her roots, working closely with clients in the life sciences sector. She helped the Max Planck Society obtain nearly $200 million in state and local incentives for its Florida institute in Jupiter, and handled many aspects of the transaction.
She also negotiated a terms of grant agreement for $60 million in state incentives for the establishment of Oregon Health and Science University Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute Florida Corp. (now VGTI Florida) in Port St. Lucie, and continues to advise clients in this dynamic sector. Her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s at a time when little was known about the disease and her father’s recent death from pancreatic cancer underpin Rodriguez’s ongoing commitment to life sciences. She serves on the board of directors of BioFlorida and its executive committee, also co-chairing the government affairs committee.
“I’m proud to have helped build our state’s life sciences sector,” she says. “I enjoy driving north on I-95 and seeing Scripps Florida, Max Planck Florida, Torrey Pines and VGTI. They are all doing wonderful things for our state, our country and our world.”