In the aftermath of a natural disaster, one might not expect to see a lawyer on the scene. However, that unexpected person might very well be Eric Gebaide, J.D. ‘86, helping the affected community by mucking out damaged homes, tearing down sheetrock, or lifting out debris. Earning both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Miami, Gebaide currently serves on the board of All Hands Volunteers, a 4 star-rated organization by Charity Navigator that has enabled over 40,000 volunteers to help 500,000 families worldwide.
Eric Gebaide, J.D. '86
When asked how he became involved in disaster relief, Gebaide remarks that it “happened organically.” It was based on “a belief that we, as lawyers owe an obligation of service in return for our education and position in society, however we can serve.” His business partner had started All Hands Volunteers abroad in December 2004 after a tsunami hit Thailand. When Hurricane Katrina hit less than a year later in August 2005, his partner incorporated AHV in the United States. Gebaide began helping out on site, meeting “wonderful people of all ages and backgrounds, who just wanted to help out as volunteers.” He joined the AHV board in December 2009.
Since Gebaide first became involved, AHV has established school rebuilding programs throughout the world and currently in Nepal, Peru, and Ecuador, where earthquakes and mudslides demolished local community structures. In the United States, AHV is rebuilding in Louisiana as a result of massive flooding from a few years ago. In the aftermath of the recent catastrophic hurricanes Harvey and Irma, AHV is assisting the people of Houston, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys. In Texas, the organization has already raised $8 million, established three volunteer bases, and enabled 500 volunteers to work on homes, schools, churches, synagogues, and community centers. AHV has established a base in the USVI as well, where they have been clearing debris and gutting structures. In the Florida Keys, AHV currently has a base in SugarLoaf Key that can house 25 day volunteers and 10 overnight volunteers. AHV has even secured a $2.5 million dollar commitment from Norwegian Cruise Lines for rebuilding efforts throughout the Caribbean. Gebaide noted that “these activities are the largest set of response to disasters AHV has ever simultaneously undertaken.”
So, how exactly does having a legal background help with worldwide disaster relief efforts? Prior to his work with AHV, Gebaide was a litigator in New York and Florida. His talents translated well to serving communities hit by natural disasters.
“I found that the skills of a litigator at quickly assessing and assimilating a new situation and information, and of an international corporate attorney at understanding how to navigate local officials and bureaucracies, were incredibly applicable,” he said. After all, “speed is always of the essence [at AHV], as the needs of the volunteers in the field, and the communities in need are often urgent.” He credits Miami Law’s Professor Bernard Oxman with helping him to gain an understanding of international law, along with his experience practicing around the world. In addition to international law, Gebaide explains that having a legal knowledge of employment, corporate and transactional issues is critical to his current role as an AHV board member.
Not only does Gebaide have experience working in the legal world, but he has also been involved in the intersection of law and business. Earning his M.B.A. with honors from Columbia Business School a few years after graduating from Miami Law, Gebaide has worked as a senior banker with Broadview Int’l LLC (now Jefferies Broadview), as Managing Director and General Counsel of a European-based banking group, created and led a startup that won a Smithsonian award and served as a board member of a privately-held supermarket company, Demoulas Supermarkets (doing business as MarketBasket).
When comparing his experiences in law and business, Gebaide explained how litigation is where “one party would prevail” but in mergers & acquisitions, “you are bringing parties together in a manner where both prevail.” He has found that his legal education “provides...a basis for detail orientation, precision of language, [and] a comprehension of the boundaries of what is possible that serves to move a transaction along.” His education at Miami Law has also helped him to “work more seamlessly with the client’s counsel [in arriving] at optimal solutions.” When involved in an M&A transaction, Gebaide remarks that “a legal background provides an unfair advantage for understanding the business and legal levers that will need to be agreed by the parties.”
To add to his impressive list of skills, Gebaide is currently the Managing Director of Innovation Advisors in New York, which he founded in 2001. He advises and has operated public and privately held technology companies in every phase of their development. When asked about advice for success for a technology startup, Gebaide recommends “hard work, teamwork, [and] intellectual humility coupled with the vanity of believing in your idea.” If your technology start-up is based on a new idea, he suggests “joining an existing enterprise and paying some dues” to learn how to best pursue your endeavor.
For law students interested in working within the intersection of law and tech, Gebaide offers these words of wisdom: “Ignore the latest fads, and understand the business. Tech trends are quite cyclical [while] business concepts and industry domain knowledge last forever. [This knowledge] differentiate[s] people who clients want to hire.” If you are going to be an attorney with a non-technical background, Gebaide says to “read, and ask questions and even put finger to keyboard to learn. You don’t have to become an expert, just learn enough to understand the experts.”
Speaking to his experiences while at Miami Law, Gebaide explains why he pursued law school in the first place. “From 4th grade, I wanted to be an international lawyer working at Baker & McKenzie. [The] dream was fulfilled when I clerked at Baker in New York.” He decided to attend Miami Law due to the school’s growing reputation amongst his friends.
During his time at Miami Law, Gebaide received the contracts book award from Professor Hausler’s course, was editor of the University of Miami Law Review, served on the International Law Journal, and the Charles Papy, Jr., Moot Court Board, and obtained the largest verdict in the Trial Advocacy Program’s history. During his 3L year, he was asked to become part of the adjunct faculty to help incoming law students and international LL.M. students, a role which he maintained after graduation.
When asked about the single greatest takeaway from his law school experience, Gebaide quotes the late Miami Law Professor M. Minnette Massey. “Read the rules.” The most influential people during Gebaide’s legal education include Professors Hausler, Oxman, Massey, and Ewald, who provided essential tools for his work as a corporate attorney and litigator. Most notably, Gebaide explains that “it was Jeanette Hausler, who as Dean of Students, ensured that in my limited economic means I could attend.” Interestingly, Gebaide only discovered later that his full scholarship to attend UM as an undergraduate was funded by a prior trailblazing dean of the School of Law, Soia Mentschikoff.
Since his early academic beginnings as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, his diverse experiences in the worlds of law, tech, and business make him the perfect illustration for the unique ways one can apply a legal degree today. For anyone wanting to follow in Gebaide’s footsteps, a good place to start is by living by his favorite motto, “ad astra” or translated from Latin, “to the stars!”