Antonio Tavares Paes Jr is a partner at Costa Tavares Paes Advogados in Brazil. Former roles include general counsel (and interim CFO) of Telenova Communications; international attorney at SG Archibald, White & Case, and Fox & Horan; senior vice president of private equity at Scudder Kemper Investments; and vice president of project finance and Latin American corporate finance at Chase Manhattan Bank. He has a law degree from the University of Rio de Janeiro and an LLM from Columbia University. He is a member of the Brazilian and New York State Bars, the American Bar Association and the Global Cyber Institute. His practice areas are corporate/M&A, financial services, insolvency, infrastructure, aviation, commercial law, compliance, cybersecurity, data protection and dispute resolution.
Questions & Answers
Thought Leaders 2021 - Interview with Antonio Tavares Paes Jr.
Describe your career to date.
I have had a diverse and fruitful career to date, with a variety of activities at several geographical locations. I started as a lawyer in Brazil, moved to study and work in New York, then to Paris to work in a French law firm. I then moved to the business side for 10 years: as a banker at first, and then a private equity manager and board member for companies in Latin America. The next step was to move into the technology sector, as general counsel of tech companies in the US (and interim CFO in one of them). I had the opportunity to go back to practising law when I opened a law firm in New York at the beginning of the century (the law firm is still going), followed by a return to Brazil after 16 years abroad, where we grew the firm to its current format. But there is much to be done still, and I am enthusiastic about the challenges and opportunities ahead.
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer in your practice area?
Variety, variety, variety. There’s never a dull moment. I work in a few sectors, a situation that ends up requiring constant attention as the economy (and people’s mood in general) fluctuates in Brazil and worldwide, such that when there is a low in one area of activity, another area is up and coming. But variety alone would not be enough; I truly enjoy the level of sophistication, experience and competence of the professionals with whom I work – on the same side of the table or as opponents, in deals and disputes and regulatory work all over the world. And, to cap it all, being able to make a difference, as small as it may be, in the community where we live.
What is the most challenging case or transaction you have ever worked on and why?
Oh, there were so many. But I have special place in my heart for one situation: a developing country’s sovereign debt restructuring in the late 1980s, where two of us representing a European financial institution, responsible for 60% of the debt being restructured, were pitted against the brightest sovereign debt restructuring lawyers around back then, from various parts of the world. Six months locked in a windowless conference room, constant all-nighters and much pressure, but, at the end, solid personal and professional roots were planted – and a successful restructuring.
What are the greatest challenges for lawyers in your practice area in your country this year?
Brazil is facing a “Triad of Evil”, three crises in one: a health crisis with the covid-19 pandemic; a political crisis; and an economic crisis, all at the same time. Despite it all, the opportunities and problems continue to surface and lawyers have to be creative, resilient and hopeful in trying new solutions to old problems; persevering when the obstacles are high; and trying to instil in the clients a sense of reality on a case-by-case basis. One of these calamities would be enough, but having the three together really tests our faith.
How do you expect your practice to evolve over the next five years?
First, we need to move past this Triad of Evil, or at least surpass the major obstacles. At that point, law firms will need to be nimbler, more efficient, and quicker to react and provide the services at a reasonable price to the client – all the while putting its members in the forefront of attention and concern. If the current crises have taught us a lesson, it is that law firms, more than ever, are made of individuals – wherever they are and irrespective of a brick-and-mortar presence – and these need to be cared for and nurtured so the law firm may progress.
What do clients look for when selecting you as a lawyer?
I do not think it is anything specific, but possibly a blend of professional characteristics that suits one client one day, and a different combination of traits another day. This is based on my experience in different countries, different areas of practice and different activities.
How would you like to see your law firm develop in the coming years?
The answer I might have given last year would, certainly, no longer be 100% accurate today. The current global crisis has forced upon all of us situations that were unthinkable a mere few months ago, but many of which are now a permanent part of our lives. I would like to see my firm moving in the direction of being even more flexible and agile, with the capacity to move into new areas of practice that keep coming up, while maintaining a solid base in the current areas of activity. But, most of all, I would like to keep it a place where lawyers work on relevant matters and can earn a decent living; a place where clients will be able to get the kind of high-level work and personalised attention they want and need at a reasonable cost; a place where our colleagues will feel welcomed; and a place that will treat the whole community as part of the firm, sharing the benefits and recognising that no one, irrespective of who the person is, has reached a place of individual relevance without the direct participation of many, and the indirect support of even more.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I still have a lot to do – as a lawyer, yes, but even more as a human being. And this is the hardest and most exciting part of it.