Ahead of The Lawyer’s European Awards 2018 on 15 March, The Lawyer has taken a closer look at the candidates for one of the most hotly contested titles of the year.

This year’s shortlisted firms for Iberian firm of the year have shown strong resilience in an often turbulent market, as well as strides in further internationalisation of their footprints.

Cuatrecasas celebrated seven consecutive years of growth in the last financial results, some of it thanks to its foray into Latin America. According to the firm, the referrals to its Mexico office increased by 104 per cent in 2016. The firm has also worked on increasing its European market share through the means of European network partners, including Chiomenti in Italy, Gide Loyrette Nouel in France and Gleiss Lutz in Germany. This collaboration, which in some occasions has included the firms’ sharing office space, has proven to be fruitful The firm says that it has 436 active referred cases in its European network during the 2016 financial year, and a 232 per cent increase in referrals since 2013.

A total of 283 people joined Garrigues during the 2016 financial year. Around 15.5 per cent of the firm’s clients are from outside of Spain and Portugal, up by 6.4 per cent during the period. In Latin America, the increase is even more pronounced – 23.1 per cent. Outside of growing its physical footprint and its financial figures, the firm has focused on its diversity and tech initiatives. The firm’s objective is to grow the number of female partners, admitting it “still has a long way to go” after growing the partnership ratio to 14.8 per cent from 13 per cent in 2016. Its tech initiatives focus on ‘think-tanks’ and transformational projects that involve the entire firm.

Gomez Acebo managing partner Carlos Rueda, who took over from the now-senior partner Manuel Martin in 2016, has overhauled the firm’s organisational structure completely. His vision includes a flatter management structure, a greater investment in client relationships and a move away from practice area silos and towards client-led practice groups. These changes are being driven by a six-strong board of directors and a nine-member business development committee. The result of this in 2016, the firm has claimed, was a hike in revenue to €56.8m. This 1 per cent hike in revenue may not seem like much on its own, but has been achieved despite a “moribund” domestic economy. Despite these economic challenges, the firm has worked to reverse a three-year fall in revenues, increasing its productivity by 7.8 per cent, utilisations by 4.7 per cent and margins up by 6 per cent.

Perez Llorca is the only firm on the shortlist for the European Awards that was unwilling to provide financial figures. The Spanish firm has promoted five partners to its Madrid office and started a tax practice in Barcelona throughout 2017.

PLMJ is one of two Portuguese law firms in the running for Iberian firm of the year at the European Awards. The firm is one of the few to provide figures from 2017, showing that revenue in the first half of last year was 10 per cent higher than in the previous year and the highest in the last 5 years. After a 13 per cent growth spurt in 2016, the firm crossed the €40 million revenue threshold for the first and is confident it will cross the €50 million mark in 2018. The firm has continued to consolidate its finance practice area with the hiring of Gonçalo Reis Martins. The team of 20 lawyers and four partners has been involved in some of the most important operations that have taken place in Portugal over recent years. The hiring of Diogo Perestrelo and his team from Cuatrecasas was a resounding success, the firm says, “and a great boost to PLMJ’s corporate/M&A practice”.

Uria Menendez is one of the prime examples of Spanish firm internationalisation in action. Uria’s stake in Latam outfit PPU, which is headquartered in Chile, Colombia and Peru, has proven fruitful, providing a constant stream of domestic and cross-border activity. The firm says that around 10 per cent of its revenue is generated in the region. However the firm, with revenue of €222.2m (an increase of 5.8 per cent compared to 2015) has not put all of its hopes in one region. It also has capabilities in Beijing, New York, London, Brussels, Frankfurt and Sao Paulo. At the end of last year, the firm invested in new offices in Lisbon and expanded its Madrid office.

Vieira de Almeida increased its revenue by 25 per cent in 2016 to an estimated €44.3m. Its international revenue, however, increased exponentially by 138 per cent. Last year was the first official year of operations for the firm in 11 jurisdictions – and of the 270 fee-earners based at VdA’s offices, around 75 per cent were involved in international matters between 2015 and 2017. The firm states in its entry that “the significant increase in our international work prompted a change in our mindset which placed the international market, mainly focused on Africa, at the centre of our operation”. Africa now represents almost a third of the firm’s overall turnover and is its fastest-growing business.

Other Iberian entries in The Lawyer’s European Awards

Garrigues has entered the Global Strategic Initiative of the Year category, showcasing its efforts in Latin America. Since October 2016, when the firm launched an office in Bogota the firm’s expansion in the region has continued. The firm’s lawyer headcount in the region now totals over 140, spanning Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. This has expanded by 58 per cent compared to 2016. Garrigues was the first of the Spanish firms to refocus its strategy on Latin America, opting for organic growth rather than law firm bolt-ons for its expansion across the territory. The firm’s latest results reflect the strategy’s delivery on investment – almost half of the firm’s €41.3m international revenue generated outside of Spain was attributed to Latin America €18.6m) where the firm has seen revenues soar by 81.4 per cent in 2017.

Iberian firms also stand out in the corporate and infrastructure deals categories, with Cuatrecasas and SRS Advogados appearing in the European Corporate Deal of the Year and European Energy and Infrastructure Deal of the Year categories respectively.

This is an extract from The Lawyer’s upcoming Iberia special report, which will be published in our March issue.

The winners will be announced at our glittering ceremony on 15 March 2018. Book your place here, and find out more about our shortlist here.