A FOCUS ON LATIN AMERICA
To stimulate awareness of business and legal work in Latin America, South Florida Legal Guide interviewed the key partners of major law firms in Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
For South Florida law firms and their clients, Latin America is a land of opportunity. With its strategic location in the center of the hemisphere, the tricounty Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area is home to thousands of companies and professional firms doing business in Latin America. As a result, there are many opportunities for U.S. law firms to build relationships with their counterparts in the region.
Today, Latin America encompasses a large and diverse group of countries representing a collective population close to 600 million people and an economy valued at $4.26 trillion, according to the CIA's World Factbook. Many countries in the region recognize the importance of opening their economies to global trade and educating their workers to compete with other nations around the world. Lowering the barriers to trade also benefits South Florida law firms and their clients.
|Daniel Del Rio|
Thanks to advanced technology, individuals, firms and business can be significant players in the international market without having to invest millions of dollars in a new enterprise. Opening a subsidiary, entering into commercial agreements, establishing a partnership or joint venture, licensing intellectual property and acquiring regional businesses are among the many opportunities available to U.S. individuals and businesses. However, one of the challenges is understanding the different laws and regulations pertinent to each country and region, as well as the varying cultural environments. Here is where the value and expertise of local law firms comes into play.
Many of the major law firms in Latin America are staffed by highly skilled attorneys who understand how to build a successful practice. Their lawyers may graduate from a top law school in their home countries and take post-graduate programs in the United States or Europe. One example is Daniel Del Rio, managing partner and head of the corporate and M&A practice at Basham, Ringe y Correa, S.C. a Mexican law firm with more than 100 attorneys. A graduate of the Escuela de Derecho de la Universidad La Salle with an MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans, Del Rio says the firm's partners are trained to develop the important client-business relationships from an international perspective. “Partners at the firm are actively involved with international associations in the United States, Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world,” he says. “They participate in conferences, conduct formal speeches and are constantly networking with other firms within a vast array of networks in order to gain a more complete and current understanding of legal issues, solutions and events that are transforming the world.” It is by understanding the dynamics of the ever-evolving business landscape that firms such as Basham have been able to grow and succeed.
Basham is the oldest and one of the largest full-service law firms in Mexico, as well as in most parts of Latin America. Del Rio sees this as a plus in marketing the firm's services, “This is a strong selling point and advantage for most global businesses,” he says. “International corporations and institutions seek professional, global and integrated legal solutions with firms that have thorough experience and a solid track record of producing results and exceeding client expectations. The challenge that Basham faces is to always provide the best advice the client needs. For such a purpose, it is always necessary to open all communication channels in order to understand the needs of our clients.”
Basham provides its legal services to clients in accordance with international parameters. As a result, the firm has relationships with many Fortune 500 companies, as well as law firms all around the world, including strong connections in South Florida.
At Barrera, Siqueiros y Torres Landa. S.C. another Mexican law firm, partner Eduardo Siqueiros has a law degree from the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico and a masters in law from Harvard University. In fact, Chambers and Partners says Siqueiros is one of the most sought after arbitrators in the country. “When we are retained by a client who is a multi-national corporation, or simply a company who is entering the Mexican market for the first time, we seek to confirm the transparency of their business activities, and legality of their structure and tax practices,” says Siqueiros. This comment reflects many of the reasons why South Florida firms benefit from having a partner that keeps the process in line with the laws and regulations that apply to each situation.
To better understand the expectations of those international firms Siqueiros explains that the firm supports a graduate legal program (normally a master in law program in a U.S. or European university), and thereafter a trainee program with a law firm abroad. “The experience of studying and working abroad with a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, being open to other ways of doing business has been key to dealing with such international relationships,” he adds.
THE BRAZILIAN MARKET
|Thomas Benes Felsberg|
With the largest economy in Latin America and a population of about 200 million, Brazil is the leading Latin American market. While Brazil attracts the eye of many international businesses and investors, the nation's tradition protective trade practices, as well as language barriers and law structures tend to make U.S. investors somewhat cautious. To address this, Thomas Benes Felsberg, head of Felsberg E Associados, one of the most prestigious law firms in Brazil, says, “Our partners have been working close to country desks, which are conducted by attorneys entitled to practice law abroad and who are sensitive to legal and cultural differences and able to overcome them. The idea is to understand the culture and the needs of foreign clients and deliver legal work which corresponds or exceeds their expectation.”
|Carlos Roberto Siqueira Castro|
Felsberg who earned a law degree at the University of São Paulo School of Law and a Masters of Law at Columbia University before founding the firm, says, “Success comes as a result of forward thinking and understanding of the differences in culture. We have also successfully succeeded in reducing the client's feeling of distance by establishing representative offices abroad. International firms are much more relieved once they realize that our firm is established in the USA, Europe and China.”
Establishing those strong relationships with law firms in other countries is of vital importance, according to Carlos Roberto Siqueira Castro, from Siqueira Castro – Advogados. This is one of Brazil's largest law firms with more than 850 lawyers, associates and interns and 20 offices in Brazil and several countries. “In South Florida we have a strong relationship with the law firm Akerman Senterfitt,” says Siqueira Castro, who explains that the firm has a long tradition of encouraging its partners and associates to improve their skills in international subjects. Every year, the Brazilian firm sends at least two lawyers to obtain a masters degree in law in the US and Europe; whenever possible, these lawyers are encouraged to spend more time abroad inside a law firm, as foreign associates, in order to complete their training and to strengthen the ties between the firm and its international peers.
Understanding the value and importance of collaboration, Siqueira Castro adds, “We want to spread our practice to other countries, not by opening our own branches but by building strong relationships with law firms that share the same level of quality in rendering legal services.”
SERVING THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Not all leading Latin American law firms come from the largest countries or economies. In the Dominican Republic, Pellerano & Herrera has acted as advisor in many large and complex transactions and cases, both locally and internationally, in sectors like telecommunications, insurance and banking. The Caribbean country's important exports include sugar, coffee and tobacco, which have been boosted by the DRCAFTA agreement signed in 2007.
The firm's founding member Juan Manuel Pellerano has written many of the textbooks used by law students throughout the Dominican Republic and also been advisor to past presidents. He is also a constant source of information for those wanting to know about the investment opportunities and how to do business in the country. Just recently, the firm published a 62-page guide “Doing Business in the Dominican Republic,” providing a broad overview of this dynamic country.
Pellerano & Herrera's managing partner, Ricardo Pellerano received his law degree from the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña and complemented his credentials with specialty programs at MIT Sloan Management Business School and Kellogg Executive Education Program at Northwestern University. “We have positioned our firm as the leader in the legal industry in the Dominican Republic for more than 20 years,” he says. “Therefore, we want South Florida firms to consider us as their option number one for doing business in the Dominican Republic, so that they know they can trust us and rely on us for their clients´ business. We will be their partners in their endeavors in this country and we are looking for a long-lasting relationship, exceeding their expectations and creating value for all the parties involved.”
Pellerano's international strategy is highly focused. “Our partners have been well trained and we have ample experience dealing with Fortune 500 companies and with the biggest and most important law firms in the world,” he says. The firm seeks to enhance its relationships with corporate counsels of multinationals from the U.S., Europe and Asia and increase cooperation with different international associations on topics of interest worldwide, such as environmental issues and human rights. “We already have begun a visiting plan to all our contacts abroad and legal firms with international practices that have an interest in the Dominican Republic,” he says.
Pellerano says that his firm will seek out full-service law firms with a solid presence in Florida to establish relationships. “We are always open to meet new firms with the same vision and the same standards as to how to deal with clients and do business,” Pellerano says.
To summarize, all these Latin American firms have successful strategies based on the importance of understanding the cultures of their international clients. To achieve this, they send their attorneys to study aboard, including internships with firms in other countries. As the world continues “flattening,” to use author Thomas Friedman's terminology, successful international law firms will need to continually learn, adapt and invest in making the client feel at home – anywhere in the world.
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