Cristina Moreno understands the differences between a dictatorship run by force and a democracy under the rule of law. Born in Cuba, she has a deep appreciation for the U.S. constitution, shared by her husband, U.S. District Court Judge Federico A. Moreno, and their three children, Cristina, an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami; Rick, a private investment professional; and Vicky-Lou, a television producer.
“When my daughters were in Lourdes High School, they took part in ‘We the People,’ a national competition about the Constitution,” said Moreno, who served as the legal coach. “My older daughter’s team won a national championship, while my younger daughter’s team came in fourth. It was a life-changing educational experience for all of us.”
That belief in the power of the law has powered Moreno’s long career as a transactional lawyer focusing on corporate, banking and real estate matters. As partner at Murai Wald Biondo & Moreno, a boutique firm in Coral Gables, she has developed her practice through loyal clients who appreciate her insights and
“I have known Cristina for a long time,” said Carlos M. de la Cruz, Sr., chairman of CC1 Companies on Key Biscayne. Moreno has represented the de la Cruz companies during the past 25 years in acquiring, financing, operating and in some cases, selling, of various businesses in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, St. Martens and South Florida. Those operations include Coca-Cola, beer and energy drink bottling companies, as well as Ford, Honda, and Hyundai car dealerships in Miami-Dade County.
“Cristina is exceptional as a corporate or transactional lawyer,” added de la Cruz. “She is able to understand the risks a business can absorb and the risks it should guard against. She also knows that a contract is a living document, and it’s important to consider not just what it says at the moment, but what it may say in the future.”
A Journey to the Law
When Moreno was 7 years old, her family left their home in Havana and moved to Hialeah. It was the early 1960s and her father Manuel Morales and mother Bijousa Morales had to rebuild their lives and careers in a new country.
“I was the oldest of five children, and my youngest sister was just 20 days old when we left Cuba,” she said. “We lived in a three-bedroom house with my cousins and grandmother. It was a loving home, and we knew we didn’t need material things to be happy.”
Moreno’s father had trained as a lawyer, but operated a travel agency in Cuba. In Miami, he found work with another agency, struggling at first as few were able to afford travel. Some ten years after their arrival in the U.S., Moreno’s parents started taking groups of young people to Europe. They expanded their travel groups to families and adult-only groups all over the word.
“My grandfathers on both sides were attorneys as well as my dad, but I hadn’t planned on a career in the law,” said Moreno. Instead, she studied journalism at the University of Miami. “It’s a great discipline because it ensures that you can write quickly and coherently about simple and complex topics,” she said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1973, she went to work for The Miami Herald. “While I enjoyed being a journalist, it didn’t seem like the right fit for me,” she said. When a friend mentioned that he was taking the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) the next day, Moreno decided to sign up as well. “I had my scores sent to UM and the law school admitted me and offered a scholarship. That’s how my career really started.”
Negotiating Business Transactions
After earning her juris doctor, Moreno joined the long-time Miami firm Paul, Landy, Beiley & Harper, handling both transactional and litigation matters. “I learned something new every day from the partners,” she said. “There were few women when I started and women still struggle to balance the challenges of a career and a family,” she said. “I joined Murai Wald & Biondo after one year and have been fortunate to practice for 39 years with men who value family commitments.”
Moreno soon found she enjoyed the transactional side of her practice and began representing entrepreneurial family-owned businesses, foreign investors and other business clients in high-stakes matters throughout Florida, the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America.
“One of the things I like about business law is that if you do a good job, both sides are satisfied with the outcome,” she said. “Your clients are your friends, too.”
Moreno also enjoys seeing the tangible results of her real estate, investment and business transactions. “I can drive by shopping centers, where I helped a client buy the land, construct the building and lease the stores,” she said. “I remember creating the condominium documents for a supermarket-anchored center in Key Biscayne that allowed the tenants to purchase their own stores.”
Along with her legal career, Moreno served on the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board for many years. As the daughter of travel agents, it’s not surprising that Moreno and her husband enjoy visiting countries around the world. “In the last few years, we’ve been to Croatia, Morocco, South Africa, Spain and France,” she said. “Photography is another hobby for me, and I enjoy taking pictures of the places we visit.”
In addition to coaching her daughters on the fine points of the law, Moreno has mentored many women attorneys over the years. “I believe it’s important for young women to make a contribution to our profession,” she said. “As a mother, you may not be able to take cupcakes to your son’s class at 10 a.m., but you can certainly help with research projects over the weekend,” she said. “I chose to be involved in activities involving my children – such as sports and schools, instead of joining legal organizations.. In short, you can be a great lawyer and still have a family life.”
A Lesson in Law
As a business lawyer, Moreno says one of the biggest challenges in her field is making sure the legal documents she prepares reflect the business understanding between the parties. “My goal as an attorney is to be sure both sides are on the same page,” she said. “Let’s say you start a retail business with your brother, and you want to grow it to 15 stores, while he is satisfied with just one. You need to create the vehicle for separation when you start the business, so that it is there when the crisis of different expectation arises”
Drawing on her experience, Moreno also asks her clients the important “what if...?” questions that open the door to a candid discussion about handling unexpected problems or opportunities. “You really have to think about those things right at the start, when you are drawing up your agreement,” she said. “It’s much better than running into disagreements or disputes down the road.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition