Unleashing talent – highlights from The Legal 500’s Corporate Counsel 100: Latin America


As Latin America increasingly becomes a global economic force, the role of the in-house lawyer in the region has evolved to produce some of the most impressive names in the legal industry.

Below are selected highlights taken from the debut edition of The Legal 500’s Corporate Counsel 100: Latin America, which identifies an array of the region’s most influential in-house counsel.

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Laterally Latin – a sideways year for a hot market


After so much talk of the rise of Latin America since the 2008 banking crisis gripped Western economies, there is no doubt that 2012 felt like something of a disappointment.

The region’s powerhouse economy, Brazil, saw growth slow considerably, cooling the market that has by far the greatest regional pulling power for multinationals and international law firms. The result, in relative terms against a 2010 and 2011 dominated by record levels of inward investment and a string of big-ticket deals, was a low-key year for advisers.

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Latin America – Latin moves


Should anyone ever write a comprehensive history of international law firms, a good place to start would be Caracas. Over half a century ago, the Chicago-based pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories headed to Latin America to establish an operation in the Venezuelan capital. It needed a reliable local law firm on the ground, where the lawyers had a good command of English. Its hometown law firm at the time was a relatively young outfit, just seven years old, called Baker & McKenzie. It was a single-site law firm, but eventually Abbott Laboratories persuaded it to come south and establish an office in Venezuela. Ultimately, both client and law firm would walk away happy. Abbott Laboratories retained a consistent standard of legal advice, while Baker & McKenzie retained a lucrative client, plus a guaranteed workflow in a new and untapped jurisdiction. The year was 1955.

A lot has happened since then, but the business case behind why most firms open international offices remains relatively unchanged. Caracas helped Baker & McKenzie develop a taste for foreign jurisdictions, and in time the Western legal industry as a whole would become increasingly bold in its attempt to enter new and emerging markets. The past two decades in particular have seen a flurry of flags being placed in maps, with almost every global region enjoying its moment in the sun, from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, through to Asia and the Middle East. The last destination of choice was Dubai in the heady, halcyon days before the global financial crisis took hold. Throughout all of this, Latin America was relatively unloved, despite Baker & McKenzie’s pioneering attentions. The firm remained loyal to the continent where it all began, establishing 14 offices across Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, but a combination of volatile politics and economics meant that most other law firms weren’t interested in committing to the region, except for a few small US outposts in Mexico City. The recent move by Argentina to nationalise its New York-listed oil and gas company RPF, at the expense of the Spanish energy company Repsol’s majority shareholding, is a reminder of the inherent risks that are still perceived to exist in certain Latin American countries.

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