What do you see as the main points that identify Morais Leitão as a leading firm in the Portuguese legal market?
One of our key points of recognition has always been the innovation in legal advisory and the significance of being a full-service firm. We regularly advise across many areas and sectors and take on multidisciplinary projects, thus establishing future trends and models while covering all grounds. The main challenge in our very competitive market, with new entrants and a geographical disadvantage, is to continue providing in-depth legal advice while remaining economically sustainable. In order for this kind of approach to be effective, we privilege internal innovation. From project and knowledge management to legal tech, from legal design to AI, we pioneer an innovative approach to procedures and content that produces real benefits for the client, both in terms of the output and of the process that leads to it.
Given the current economic problems created by the war in Ukraine, how has this affected your firm?
From a personal point of view, it’s impossible not to be shocked by the occurrence of war in Europe, taking a heavy and unnecessary toll of human lives and disturbing profoundly people we cherish and love.
As a manager, I saw this event as a variable to consider that creates further instability in an already unpredictable economy. Even though our exposure to Russian entities was fairly limited, we ran internal checks regarding sanctions and we’ve been assisting various clients on energy and supply chain consequences –helping them navigate an uncertain strategic landscape. I’d definitely highlight the importance of solid anti-money laundering practices and ensuring that compliance values are not seen as another obligation but as insurance against future problems. One particular feature of the last few years, to which this war made a definite contribution, is the heavier scrutiny on firms and companies’ actions and standpoint: environment, society and governance issues are increasingly valued by clients, and we’ve been keeping a watchful eye on our own practices, ensuring that we measure accurately the role we play in these dimensions, thus starting change from inside.
What have been the standout matters that demonstrate Morais Leitão’s strengths?
It’s always hard to choose when all areas are performing well. In corporate, I’d highlight our advisory on the sale of two private equity funds and the property manager ECS to the US company Davidson Kempner, in the so-called ‘Crow Project’, supporting the financing banks – Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Millennium BCP and Novo Banco. The operation was the largest real estate transaction of the year and held particularly challenging contours, namely its length and the included asset portfolio.
We’ve also advised our long-term client EDP – Energias de Portugal, S.A. (EDP) on the sale of its 50% stake in Hydro Global Investment Ltd (Hydro Global), a 50/50 joint venture between EDP and CTG, to China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE), a company that belongs to China Three Gorges Group (CTG). Hydro Global’s main asset is the hydro project San Gabán III, in Peru, which is currently under construction.
When it comes to complexity, we could mention our work with Sonae Sierra, SGPS, S.A. in connection with the restructuring and investment process for the acquisition of Imosal (owner of Atrium Saldanha, a shopping centre in Lisbon’s centre). This transaction is a sui generis and complex restructuring transaction entailing, notably, the incorporation of a real estate investment and management company (Sociedade de Investimento e Gestão Imobiliária, ‘SIGI’) used as a vehicle to raise funds for the acquisition of Imosal and the subsequent conversion of the latter into an externally managed real estate collective investment company (SICAFI).
Can you talk about any trends or changes you are seeing emerge especially across Corporate, Commercial and M&A, capital markets and corporate restructuring areas?
When it comes to Portugal, we have witnessed interesting movements. The first must be the sophistication of our emerging companies’ ecosystem. Companies such as Remote or Farfetch are world leaders – conducting their operations from Portugal. For our firm, this means excelling in project management within as many as 50 different jurisdictions and developing cutting-edge finance arrangements. I would next highlight the energy and natural resources sector, where Portugal has been pioneering and leading the energy transition – the projects in which we’re currently advising on hydrogen and renewable electric power are particularly relevant and confirm our role not only as legal advisers but as our clients’ strategic partners, innovating side by side.
Corporate and M&A has obviously been quite intense, with record years being established on a consistent basis. Our market is quite appealing to external investors, and we’ve been working on companies purchases related to their international and digital capabilities. Private equities keep enhancing their participation, with steady interest in tech-related industries and real estate. Due to our longstanding experience in capital markets (we are consistently awarded the prize of most active law firm in equity), we’ve been collaborating with Euronext on their ‘Techshare’ initiative, raising awareness of capital markets among promising Portuguese technology companies. Again, it’s about sharing knowledge and offering different options to our clients’ needs and goals.
How would you describe the investment climate in Portugal in the last 12 months? Which sectors offer the largest potential to prospective clients and how do you see 2023?
As in other countries, many entities have been reviewing their portfolios, creating strong opportunities of investment. Banking and insurance distribution have been hot topics – and there’s enough reason to believe they will continue as such. Even though inflation usually slows investment, our pipeline still remains heavy on projects. Portugal has attracted investors with a certain level of sophistication and risk capacity, leading us to exciting challenges, namely with alternative financial instruments (REITs and closed-end investment companies come to mind).
Are there any specific international jurisdictions your firm has earmarked for growth over 2023? And why?
We’ll have news on one jurisdiction in a couple of months. Our lusophone practice has been growing in terms of volume and sophistication, reflecting flows and trends of external investment. We also do try to match our clients’ needs, when it comes to internationalisation, so that they can rely on our constant support. This being said, we’ll be opening a new office in the Asian region.
What would you say is the most important part of any client relationship?
Transparency. It’s the cornerstone of a healthy relationship: transparency ensures communication, delivery and predictability, which are highly valued in every project or matter. Our lawyers work for the best possible solution for the client’s needs. Even when the outcome turns out not to be what the client initially wanted, the project can still be successful and the client happy or at the very least at ease with the output – because he or she was permanently updated on strategies and steps, in a predictable framework.
What is it about Morais Leitão that has enabled you to retain talent within the firm?
I don’t think anyone can have fixed thoughts about retention and any causal factors. Our human resources team recently changed their title to People: it wasn’t just a matter of semantics, it meant recentring its focus on our people and their needs. We do our best, within the available data, to design humane policies that balance the firm’s profitability and people’s wellbeing. We have our policies routinely audited and found worthy of a formal certification, in terms of worklife balance. This means that we regularly review and update measures in six specific areas: quality of time, flexibility, family support, personal and professional development, equality of opportunity as well as leadership and management. The plan has certainly reinforced our culture of respect and collaboration, in which opinions, feedback and constant learning are valued. Respect has also meant developing a diverse culture, in which people are viewed and praised for what they, as individuals, bring to the firm – worldviews, perspectives, personalities, experience, expertise. High levels of retention correlate strongly with a healthy work culture and ethics and we are proud that our retention levels consistently are high. In short: we thrive to develop a work environment in which everyone feels right and at home – that will definitely remain our priority.
For more information, please contact:
Nuno Galvão Teles, managing partner
Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares Da Silva & Associados
Rua Castilho, 165
T +351 213 817 400