Postcard from…Buenos Aires
4 December 2009
From the wide Parisian avenues of Recoleta to the colonial architecture of San Telmo and the skyscrapers of the Microcentro, Buenos Aires - or BA - is a unique mix of antique and modern, a European city, blending Hispanic and Italian cultural influences and styles, with a distinctly American twist.
The cliché of “the Paris of the South” is not wholly untrue but it is just that there is more to BA than that. People do dance tango in the streets, but then again are more likely than not to be listening to the latest dance anthems or 80s classics on their iPods (the 80s revival being very much in full swing here). When the possibility of undertaking an internship at M & M Bomchil arose, and my bosses in London graciously agreed, I didn´t need too much persuasion in order to book that flight. While I may have been slightly swayed by the idea of cheating the seasons and getting two summers in one year, it seemed to me like a unique opportunity to get an insight into another legal market, to improve my language skills and most importantly to work with a highly regarded arbitration team.
Luckily, I am living fairly close to the office, in San Telmo, a working class barrio/boho-hotspot (rather like my native Hackney) and so commuting to the office isn´t too much of a problem. Every morning, I wait in a line, as orderly as any queue in London, for the colectivo, the ridiculously cheap and ridiculously frequent local bus service. The bus takes a fairly circuitous route but every morning passes the Casa Rosada and the Plaza de Mayo on its way to drop me in the Microcentro, BA´s downtown and the commercial and financial hub of the city. Packed with banks, law firms and every imaginable business, the Microcentro is every bit as bustling as the City. At 9am, the pavements jam with city workers, shoppers and occasionally protestors on their way their way to a demonstration in the Plaza de Mayo - a reminder that Argentina is a country not without its problems and still slowly recovering from the economic crisis of 2001.
The 1920s art deco block in which Bomchil is based is quite different to the 35 floors of sleek steel and glass that make up CityPoint but somehow it feels appropriate for a firm established in 1923. Inside, the firm´s office (aside from the grandfather clock on the 12th floor) is as modern as any English or US firm which I have seen. Never having worked outside of the UK or of my own firm and perhaps naively not knowing what to expect, I have been singularly impressed by all the lawyers I have met here in Argentina. Along with the high degree of professionalism and expertise, one can not but be impressed by lawyers who have perfectly mastered the art of practicising law for international clients in a language which is not their own. The emphasis on the importance of legal knowledge in the course of practice is also extremely impressive here: partners and senior associates somehow manage to combine their day jobs with professorships at the university and more junior associates are encouraged not only to take masters programmes but also to teach at the school of law. In addition to these academiccommitments, associates have billable targets not far short of those in London or New York. Practicising law in the exotic climes of Buenos Aires certainly isn´t for the faint-hearted. This isn´t a city of long boozy lunches and afternoon siestas: many associates eat lunch in the office and don´t ordinarily leave the office until 8 or 9pm.
But of course, this is still Argentina and, while the lawyers work hard here, the social aspects of work also play an important part in office life. Since I have arrived, there have been many “after-offices”, a chance for the team to get together and to enjoy a few drinks, usually in a fairly swanky cocktail bar packed with the city´s gilded youth. But the social highlight which everybody is looking forward to is the team´s annual weekend at the country quintaof one of the senior associates. As well as the obligatory asado, the unique Argentine take on the BBQ and lots of red wine, pool games, country walks and horse-back riding have all been promised! While I would hate to re-enforce stereotypes - the way that I have been so warmly welcomed into the team here feels like it must be something uniquely Latin.
Nick Lawn is an Associate at Simmons & Simmons in London. He is currently undertaking a foreign internship in the International Arbitration group at M & M Bomchil Abogados in Buenos Aires, Argentina.