Latin Lawyer 250 2017

Motta, Fernandes Rocha - Advogados

Brazil

Modernising drive with traditional prestige

  • Established: 1956
  • Partners: 28
  • Total lawyers: 42

Motta, Fernandes Rocha celebrated its 60th birthday in 2016, marking it out as a true veteran within a market dominated by young firms. Age brings with it certain advantages; the Rio-based firm has more than its fair share of experience weathering the vicissitudes of Latin America’s largest economy. The firm has a history of bouncing back from partner departures – a capability that stands it in good stead to recover from the number of departures that took place in 2016. Towards the end of the year, former partner Luís Wielewicki was among a group of four corporate, finance and infrastructure partners to join Sampaio Ferraz Advogados. Shortly afterwards, Luiz Leonardo Cantidiano led a group of 10 partners (including many members of his own family) to launch a firm focused on corporate, capital markets, disputes and tax. Substantial though the impact of such a notable reduction in partner headcount has been, Motta Fernandes Rocha says it came in the wake of a sweeping modernisation programme that will make the firm more institutionalised, stronger and better equipped to compete within Brazil’s legal market in the long run. So far, this has seen the firm adopt more modern internal processes (although the partnership remains hierarchically divided between three levels) and deepen the firm’s offering in key areas, such as litigation, arbitration and regulatory. The firm’s branding, website and training programme has also been overhauled, and plans are in progress to move into new offices. The thorniest challenge and source of greatest friction has been the shift from the eat-what-you-kill compensation system towards a modified lock-step model; although important changes have already made, the firm says it still needs to go deeper and has hired a consultant to complete the transition. Challenging though the process is proving, a significant source of strength is a consensus among senior partners that it is necessary and has already been undertaken in various forms by other, well-established firms in the market. Few would bet against the firm making a success of the transition and emerge stronger and competitive. Over its long history, Motta Fernandes Rocha has proven its ability to take the rough with the smooth; a feature that has ensured it longevity, kept clients returning time and again and helped establish its reputation for providing consistently top-quality work even during the most challenging of circumstances.

Clients

A snapshot of big-name clients on Motta Fernandes’ books include Philips, Natura, Johnson & Johnson, Nivea and Wobben Windpower.

Practice Areas

Corporate and M&A

Key partners: Horacio Bernardes Neto is a towering figure in the department with a broad practice, high profile within the legal community and exemplary CV that includes being the first Brazilian to hold the prestigious role of secretary general of the International Bar Association. The highly regarded Fernando Stacchini handles technology and digital law matters. The firm lost several prominent partners in 2016, including Luiz Leonardo Cantidiano, Maria Lucia Cantidiano, Osmar Simões, Daniel Kalansky and André Cantidiano, who left to establish their own firm; Luís Wielewicki, who left with three other partners to join a rival; and Otto Lobo, who left to set up his own firm. 

Analysis: Motta Fernandes’ corporate practice is the practice that has suffered the greatest impact of the firm’s widespread modernisations programme, with a string of senior partners leaving to establish their own outfits or to join rival firms. Although the firm maintains the changes are necessary to instil a more collegiate atmosphere in the firm that will allow it to better compete in the future, in the short term the departures have deprived the department (and several others) of substantial top-flight experience and breadth. Nevertheless, the practice has very solid foundations on which to build. Bernardes Neto is an excellent ambassador for the firm, with a book of contacts from around the world that is the envy of many lesser firms and helps ensure the firm remains favoured counsel for scores of companies. The department’s niche advising client in technology and digital law also indicates an innovative approach that will be enhanced by modern systems and processes firm-wide.

Most recent deals

Banking & finance

Key partners: Henrique Vergara is a big name in the department and works in a number of practice areas, including structured finance transactions and capital markets work. Roberto Liesegang includes banking within a broad practice and wins plaudits from clients for his understanding of trade finance products, short response time, diligence and professionalism, and Michael Altit is also prominent and comes recommended in LACCA APPROVED. Luiz Leonardo Cantidiano left with 10 partners (including several members of his family) to establish his own firm and corporate and banking lawyer Luís Wielewicki left with three other partners to join a rival firm in 2016.

Analysis: Motta Fernandes’ broad banking and finance practice – which spans capital markets, bank finance, projects and restructuring – was at the sharp end of the firm’s ongoing restructuring process in 2016. Two separate groups of partners, many with strong ties to the department, left the firm, depriving the practice area of both headcount and notable experience. Nevertheless, with activity in the market still low, the firm says it intends to rely on its existing team and maintain the department’s current size into 2017. However, this is not to say the department’s lawyers are left idle. For example, a recent deal saw the group engaged by state-controlled Banco do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul negotiate an exclusivity agreement to becomes the sole processor of the state’s payroll payments.

Top deals

Insurance & reinsurance

Key partners: Practice head Roberto Liesegang.

Analysis: Motta Fernandes Rocha’s insurance team is kept busy advising major international insurance and reinsurance companies on broad range of matters. The department saw an uptick in deal flow in recent years owing to preparations for the Olympic Games in 2016 and FIFA World Cup in 2014. The firm’s main services include providing legal support for claims adjustments, preparing and negotiating insurance and reinsurance policies, and assisting clients on lawsuits to recover subrogation amounts for insurers and reinsurers.

Corporate governance

Key partners: Henrique Vergara, whose experience includes various roles at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Brazil (CVM) between 1997 and 2006.

Analysis: The practice suffered a blow in 2016 when leading partner Luiz Leonardo Cantidiano left to open his own firm. It is now overseen by Vergara, whose experience working at the CVM for more than two decades is a big draw for clients.   

Aviation

Key partners: Practice head Maria Regina Lynch, who is highly regarded for her aviation law expertise, Patricia Lynch Pupo and Andrea de Moraes Chieregatto.

Analysis: Motta Fernandes’ aviation practice assists clients on deals and cases involving

aircraft financing and leasing, tax structures, aircraft registration and deregistration, repossession and foreclosure, and air transport regulations. In 2010, the team was called upon to develop the legal framework for the first aircraft fractional ownership programme in Brazil and continues to provide day-to-day advice to its clients related to the programme and legal transactions.

Work highlights: The firm assisted a Japanese aircraft lease and financing company in the delivery of the final five aircraft to a Brazilian airline under a purchase agreement signed in 2006 and advised an engine lease financing company in the negotiation of a sale-leaseback transaction with an airline involving two engines.

Energy

Key partners: Cecília Vidigal, whose practice includes antitrust, corporate and disputes work.

Analysis: Motta Fernandes’ combined energy and oil and gas practice bore the brunt of the firm’s recent internal restructuring, which sparked the departure of a clutch of partners. Former department head Luiz Gustavo Bezerra and Otto Lobo both left for other firms in 2016, while the department was left further depleted by the passing of Sebastião Rego, a former director-general of Brazil’s petroleum agency, who died a year earlier. Although the firm retains a solid reputation in the market for energy and infrastructure work, heavy rebuilding will be required to regain the headcount, capacity and experience the department boasted in previous years. 

Litigation

Key partners: Founding partner Alaor de Lima Filho and Henrique Vergara, who formerly worked for BM&FBovespa.

Analysis: Motta Fernandes Rocha’s solid litigation practice may be overshadowed by others in the market, but its practitioners are diligently taking steps to raise its profile. Vergara, who draws on valuable first-hand experience working at Brazil’s stock exchange, is tasked with building the department’s arbitration profile, for example. In 2016, the firm won the disputes category in Latin Lawyer’s Deal of the Year Award for its assistance to one of the parties in a dispute between the Ternium/Techint Group and Japan’s Nippon Steel.

Pro bono

Analysis: Horacio Bernardes is a leading figure in the powerful movement to firmly establish the provision of pro bono among Brazilian law firms, and is one of the drafters of the Pro Bono Declaration of the Americas. Pro bono clients have included the International Center for Research and Policy on Childhood and the Brazilian Center for International Relations.


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