Gómez-Acebo is to put the decision to launch in Portugal to a partner vote next month and is believed to be close to signing a contract for office premises in central Lisbon.
If the partnership gives it the green light, it will be the firm’s third international office alongside Brussels and London.
Gómez-Acebo managing partner Manuel Martín said: “[Lisbon] is important because of the Iberian business structure. A lot of multinationals treat Iberia as a single market. Our three main competitors [Cuatrecasas Goncalves Pereira, Garrigues and Uría Menéndez] are all there.”
The plan is to have one resident Spanish lawyer working alongside three Portuguese partners and their respective teams, which will be hired from the local market. The office will cover public law, corporate and financial services.
Meanwhile, co-managing partner of Uría’s Lisbon office Francisco Sá Carneiro has resigned and will leave the firm shortly, possibly with fellow partners Bernardo Abreu and Duarte Brito De Goes. Remaining co-managing partner Duarte Garin will manage the office.
Sá Carneiro joined Uría in 2004 via a merger with Vasconcelos F Sá Carneiro Fontes. He declined to comment on his departure.
A spokesperson at Uría said: “It was a personal decision of his to move on with something of his own. He’s been a very important partner in terms of the integration of his firm.”
The barriers to entry for foreign firms into Portugal are relatively high, with the local bar association, the Ordem dos Advogados de Portugal, operating a relatively conservative approach.
Gómez-Acebo split with its Portuguese ally Vieira de Almeida two years ago (TheLawyer.com, 11 June 2007) and since then has been looking to establish a Lisbon office of its own.
A Portuguese base forms part of the firm’s 2007-12 business plan, which includes strengthening key areas including tax and labour and the firm’s presence in the Catalan market. It achieved the latter through a merger with former Nabarro best friend Rodés & Sala (TheLawyer. com, 30 June). Prior to the merger the firm brought in e61.1m (£55.8m) for the 2008 calendar year.
Martín said that implementing the business plan had become easier during the recession.
“In some respects the situation has helped us to [carry out our strategy] quicker,” he said. “When you have a complex situation like this each firm thinks about whether their own strategy works.”
Earlier this year Simmons & Simmons decided to spin off its Portuguese office because its clients did not require legal services in the country and the market was too small to produce a sufficient number of global clients (The Lawyer, 9 February). This came only two years after it completed full integration with local firm Rebelo de Sousa.
Rebelo de Sousa signed up with Simmons in 2001 after eight years as an alliance partner. They will continue as alliance partners.
For more on Iberia see Special Report, page 25