Lusophone Africa: Sweet talk

Despite restrictions on foreign lawyers setting up shop in Mozambique, the region’s historical and linguistic links with Portugal offer a host of international benefits

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In some ways, Angola and Mozambique are two of the most international-facing jurisdictions in Africa, with firms in both jurisdictions maintaining solid and long-standing relationships with Portuguese outfits.

Of the two, Angola is an easier place to do business as a foreign firm, although it still has restrictions. 

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Regulations prohibit anyone not registered at the Mozambique bar from working in a law firm. Foreign lawyers are not allowed to work in a local firm and some outfits have found themselves severely penalised for running afoul of the rules.

Both countries are experiencing an uptick in oil and gas work, and this is likely to be an area of expansion in the future.

List of Firms:

Angola

Mozambique

Angola

AVM Advogados

Founding partner: António Vincente Marques

Total number of partners: 7

Total number of lawyers: 92

Founded: 2003

Networks/associations: World Services Group

Top deals of 2013:

  • Regular adviser to major oil and gas companies on day-to-day matters in connection with their Angolan activities.
  • Acted for OPI International on its Malembo Development Centre project to construct a housing and industrial facility near the Malongo Terminal, which is operated by Chevron.
  • Advising on a two-part loan project worth a total $73.5m (£44m) to construct a wood processing plant and a road to enable wood harvesting.

AVM Advogados was founded just over a decade ago by Portuguese-born lawyer António Vincente Marques, who at the time was working as an academic in Angolan capital Luanda. Marques saw an opportunity to set up an internationally focused Angolan firm to reap the benefits of the country’s new-found peace.

“We started to see not only oil and gas business but also business from other industries and growing interest from foreign investors,” says Marques.

Although progress was initially slow, after a few years of stability international investment began to flow into Angola. 

Marques says the firm has achieved double-digit turnover growth every year, and sees no reason why this should slow down. Growth forecasts suggest that, in the long term, Angola could overtake Nigeria and South Africa as the continent’s largest economy.

AVM has also expanded outside Angola. The firm has offices in Mozambique, Portugal and Brazil, bucking the trend for independent firms in Lusophone Africa to team up with Portuguese firms.

Marques says that the Portugal offices – AVM is in both Lisbon and Porto – are used as a recruitment tool to pick up talented young lawyers that the firm cannot find in Angola. They also function as back-office support. 

“Everything we do outside Africa is to help our growth in Africa,” says Marques, stressing that AVM remains an African firm.

The firm has invested significantly in systems and compliance, developing, for example, a cloud-based IT platform that allows lawyers and staff to work in any location.

Clients are predominantly international and referrals come mainly from UK or US law firms such as Allen & Overy , Baker & McKenzie , Clifford Chance , Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case .

Fátima Freitas Advogados

Managing partner: Fátima Freitas

Total number of partners: 6

Total number of lawyers: 38

Founded: 1998

Networks/associations: Miranda Alliance

Fátima Freitas Advogados was the first African firm to join the Miranda Alliance when Portuguese firm Miranda set it up in 2000. 

While Fátima Freitas’s history stretches back 20 years, it has been operating formally since 1998 and now employs about 50 staff.

It is a full-service firm but the bulk of its work – over 80 per cent, according to partner Chindalena Lourenço – focuses on oil and gas.

Lourenço says the alliance brings the firm shared know-how and resources as well as additional capability where needed.

The two firms have an association agreement, filed with the Angolan bar association, which means that although they are adhering to the rules over foreign ownership and employing foreign lawyers, they are still integrated closely. 

Future growth is likely, although recruitment is a challenge, particularly when finding lawyers with English language skills.

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Mozambique

Couto Graça & Associados

Managing partner: Pedro Couto

Total number of partners: 8

Total number of lawyers: 44

Firm founded: 2011

Networks/associations: Lex Africa, Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira

Top deals of 2013:

  • Acted for an Italian-Thai company on the PPP for the construction, operation, maintenance and management of the railway and port facilities in Macuse, Quelimane Province.
  • Advised the Nacala Corridor Project on the PPP for the construction, operation, maintenance and management of Nacala Port, Nacala Coal Terminal and Nacala Railway.
  • Acted for Eni on the structuring of a liquefied natural gas project plant in northern Mozambique.

Mozambican firm Couto Graça & Associados (CGA) came into existence less than three years ago, when three firms – H Gamito Couto Gonçalves Pereira Castelo Branco & Associates, Monteiro Graça & Associates and Furtado Bhikha Loforte Popat & Associates – joined forces.

CGA managing partner Pedro Couto explains that the firms merged to increase capacity so they could attract and serve international transactions coming to Mozambique. 

CGA is now one of the larger African firms both in its home jurisdiction and further afield, with 44 lawyers of whom eight are partners. From the start the firm structured itself along similar lines to those employed by international firms, with partners responsible for specific areas.

The firm has two key international relationships, both brought by legacy H Gamito. The firm has been in a close but non-exclusive relationship with legacy Portuguese firm Gonçalves Pereira since 1998 – a relationship which, Couto says, was strengthened by Gonçalves’ 2003 merger with Spain’s Cuatrecasas .

Also in 2003, H Gamito was one of the founding members of the Lex Africa group, giving it links to other African firms.

Couto says CGA works regularly with major international firms including Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer , Norton Rose Fulbright, Linklaters , Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, as well as other Portuguese firms. South Africa is also a regular supplier of work. However, CGA is committed to its independence for the foreseeable future.

Lawyers focus on specialised areas, with core practice groups including corporate, banking and finance, litigation and employment. Couto also picks out oil and gas as a core sector. “Certainly it’s one that we expect to grow in the near future,” he adds. The firm is also developing its tax department.

Fernanda Lopes & Associados

Name partner: Fernanda Lopes

Total number of partners: 2

Total number of lawyers: 12

Founded: 1995

Networks/associations: None 

Mozambican firm Fernanda Lopes & Associados (FL&A) will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. The firm is small, with only 12 lawyers, but has a solid reputation and works with a number of international firms including Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Dentons, DLA Piper and Herbert Smith Freehills .

Until September 2013 FL&A was a member of the Africa Legal Network (ALN). Name partner Fernanda Lopes declines to say why the firm quit ALN, but says it is now exploring other options for international work. FL&A also works on a non-exclusive basis with CMS Rui Pena & Arnaut in Portugal.

Lopes says: “We don’t just want to be the Mozambique endpoint of whichever international law firm that tries to get an alliance.” 

Lopes herself is a key player in the local bar, and helped draft the regulations that require firms operating in the country to employ lawyers registered at the Mozambique bar. She says the regulations are an important way to protect the legal system, which unlike surrounding countries is based on Portuguese rather than English law.

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Pimenta Dionísio e Associados

Founding partner: Paulo Pimenta

Total number of partners: 1

Total number of lawyers: 20

Founded: 1999

Networks/associations: Miranda Alliance

Pimenta Dionísio e Associados was founded at the turn of the millennium by Portuguese-born lawyer Paulo Pimenta, who had moved to Mozambique a few years earlier. Pimenta has since gained Mozambican citizenship and has built his firm into one of the largest in the country.

The firm joined the African alliance of Portuguese firm Miranda in 2005. Pimenta says the decision to join forces with Miranda was made quickly, with the Portuguese firm bringing expertise in oil and gas and mining that Pimenta Dionísio did not have at the time.

“It’s been mutually beneficial,” Pimenta says. He adds that being in an alliance with a Portuguese firm opens a door to referrals from international Anglo-Saxon firms which would otherwise be closed.

Pimenta says his firm works with most international players and South African firms such as Bowman Gilfillan and ENSafrica.

Miranda also offers training and secondment opportunities to Pimenta Dionísio, along with back-office support from Lisbon when needed.

Pimenta Dionísio is in the process of promoting two lawyers to its partnership, and Pimenta says he wants to double the size of the firm in the next three years, provided he can find the right lawyers to hire.

The firm will consolidate the office in Pemba, in the north of Mozambique, which it opened last year to serve a project to expand the airport. Pimenta is also eyeing opportunities to launch a third office in the port city of Nacala.

Key facts

Angola

GDP: $129.4bn  

Inflation: 7.69%

Population: 21.47m

Life expectancy at birth: 51

Unemployment: 25% 

Source: World Bank, Instituto Nacional de Estatistica, African Development Bank Group

Key facts

Mozambique

GDP: $16.4bn

Inflation: 6.5%

Population: 25.83m

Life expectancy at birth: 49

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group