Going global

In the cosy world of Latin American legal practice, global aspirations have traditionally been weak – but this is changing slowly as the region looks beyond its borders and law firms see the importance of creating the right image if they want to be seen as serious international players.

Brazilian firm Pinheiro Neto paved the way. It's London office was set up in 1978, emerging from the close relationship which had been established by the firm and Anthony Clare, the English solicitor who heads up the office. Clare went to Brazil in the 1960s, working first with Citibank and then with Pinheiro Neto in Sao Paulo, before returning to London in the late 1970s to set up his own practice, Clare & Co. Pinheiro Neto jumped at the opportunity presented by his return to establish a presence.

This move has since been followed by other initiatives. As the Brazilian member of the European lawyers' association, Club de Abogados, Pinheiro Neto forged close informal ties with the UK member Simmons & Simmons and Spanish firm J&A Garrigues, which have since been developed further.

The Brazilian firm uses the Garrigues/Simmons joint office in Brussels as a sounding post in the city, while, in Lisbon, another location which has attracted much Brazilian interest in recent years, the firms have set up a joint venture law firm with local lawyers.

Although the recent link between Arthur Andersen and Garrigues (now called J&A Garrigues Andersen) has put a question mark over the future shape of cooperation, the firm intends maintaining presences in both Brussels and Lisbon, according to Clare.

Other firms are following Pinheiro's lead abroad and, in some cases, taking its example further. In particular, fellow Brazilian firm Noronha Advogados, with about 100 lawyers, has adopted a robust approach, opening its first overseas office in Miami in 1982 and underlining the ties between Florida and Latin America.

In the late 1980s, the firm further strengthened its international profile when it set up in London. It has since opened offices in Lisbon and most recently Buenos Aires, which, according to London resident partner Eliana Filippozzi, built upon a previous relationship Noronha Advogados had with a local firm. It came about because of increasing Brazilian investment in Argentina.

Few firms have been as ambitious, but some have shown themselves ready to set up abroad where specific business opportunities present themselves. Portugal, for example, has attracted a number of Brazilian firms, underlining the importance of the Portuguese market to Brazil's legal community. Brazilian firms are at an advantage in Portugal because they are allowed to operate local law practices.

In contrast, Brazilian firms have not rushed to set up in New York or London, the traditional melting pots for international lawyers. Argentina's Allende & Brea has a longstanding New York office, but remains one of the few Latin American firms represented in the city.

London has attracted a large number of firms from Panama, such as Arias Fabrega Fabrega, Morgan & Morgan and Arosemena Noriega & Contreras – all of which have been drawn by shipping work, but there are still few South American firms in the City. The growing interest in Latin America by European firms, however, could well open the floodgates.