Miami Law alumnus Raul Aguila, a 25-year government attorney and dedicated servant to social justice and public interest, has never looked back. After 23 years as an Assistant City Attorney in Miami Beach, Aguila was unanimously appointed Miami Beach’s City Attorney in the spring of 2014.
A Miami native, Aguila grew up in the Westchester neighborhood of West Miami. As the son of a Cuban lawyer, he was always interested in the law and driven to achieve. After graduating high school, he joined the Faculty Scholars program at Florida International University, which allowed him to earn an expedited bachelor’s degree in only two years, with a concentration on political science and public policy.
Already an accomplished young scholar, Aguila desired to hone his writing and speaking skills further by pursuing a legal education. At only 19 years old, he joined the class of 1985 at Miami Law. Though he had admission offers from many law schools, including Georgetown and Columbia, a generous scholarship and his appreciation for the work of the late Dean Soia Mentschikoff swayed him to stay in Miami. “Dean Mentschikoff did for Miami Law what Donna Shalala did for UM. She was a great legal academic figure who completely transformed the law school.”
Aguila recalls being the youngest member of his 1L class and how strange it was that all of his friends were still in college. But even now, he credits legendary professor Richard Hausler’s intriguing and memorable first-year Contracts lectures for attracting him to the world of transactional work. Later in his law school career, he worked for a summer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he first found his passion for working for the public interest.
After that experience, Aguila sought to begin his full-time career in public service. Shortly after graduating from Miami Law, he moved to Key West to join the Monroe County Attorney’s Office as an Assistant County Attorney. While leaving Miami was not a part of his original plan, Aguila was thrilled for the opportunity to get his foot in the door of a municipal law office.
After two years in Key West, during which he handled mostly contracts and procurement, Aguila was recruited by Larry Feingold to work in the Miami Beach City Attorney’s Office. Mr. Aguila began working for Miami Beach in 1993, continuing the transactional practice he had begun in Monroe County.
At the time, Aguila believed he would work as an Assistant City Attorney for perhaps a few more years and then transition into private practice. But after working on major development projects such as Lincoln Road, the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Loews Hotel, and the New World Center and SoundScape (home of the New World Symphony), he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else:
“The type of work and the amount of projects were so great . . . . As a young City Attorney, I got to work with partners and senior partners from major law firms,” said Aguila. “I got hired right when Miami Beach was exploding. I have had the opportunity to do world class work my entire career.”
In addition to real estate projects, Aguila has also spearheaded cutting-edge social legislation that has influenced local governments throughout Florida and the country. To that end, Miami Beach was one of the first cities to enact human rights legislation and domestic partnership protections. Additionally, the city was one of the first to pass ordinances guaranteeing a living wage to the employees of city contractors, and requiring that city contractors provide equal benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.
“Having other cities call you to ask for copies of your legislation has been one of the greatest feelings I have had in my career,” he said.
Thinking about what the future has in store for Miami Beach, Aguila envisions a municipality on the forefront of sustainability. He is working with the city to enhance public transportation and to make the city as pedestrian friendly as possible, with the hope of one day eliminating the need for cars all together. He is also working on turning Miami Beach into a model for corporate sustainability. For example, a recently enacted ordinance prohibits the use and sale of expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) by retail stores and food service providers.
Aguila describes the city’s collaborative relationship with the public as one of the most exciting aspects of working for a municipality. “Miami Beach is one of the most vocal democracies and active citizenries. I have seen citizens here shape policy. As a public official, that’s exciting. That’s something one doesn’t get to deal with in the private sector.”
To current students interested in pursuing a career in public interest, Aguila advises being as proactive as possible: “Call your government offices (every single one of them) and try to get an internship, paid or not paid. Just being a part of the process and seeing how it works is invaluable. Working in the public sector is an extremely fulfilling career path, and getting hands-on experience is the best way to develop relationships and get a taste of that life.”
“I got my dream job in 1993 and I have had it for twenty-three years.”