2021 Latin Lawyer Elite firm
This is not just one of the best firms in the Brazilian market; BMA is the home of rainmakers who have famously handled some of the most memorable transactions in the country’s recent history.
Such is the reliably high quality of BMA’s service offering that clients return to the firm time and again, helping it to maintain an enviable deal flow even during the all-too-frequent vicissitudes of the Brazilian market. Despite the slowdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic pushing many companies to the brink, BMA’s leading transactional practice continued to advise on some of the biggest and most complex transactions in the market through the course of 2020. Fresh from its role in the TAG US$8.7 billion landmark sale to Engie and Aliansce Shopping Centres’ US$1.8 billion merger with Sonae Sierra, BMA advised Brazilian industrial conglomerate Ultrapar on the US$1.3 billion sale of its chemical unit Oxiteno.
BMA’s competition and antitrust practice group is second to none in the Brazilian market, guiding Carrefour on the antitrust aspects of its purchase of Grupo BIG. An equally high-level disputes team stayed busy on behalf of companies still feeling the brunt of Brazil’s recent difficult years. The firm made a strategic, early move to position itself to ride the wave of high-profile restructuring and bankruptcy deals that emerged from the crisis. Today, BMA can rightfully boast of an impressive deal portfolio built in the area, not least its advice to telecoms company Oi during its historical restructuring and its representation of Queiroz Galvão.
BMA’s environmental team has also been in the spotlight. Its intellectual property and life sciences practice areas have gained increased attention, while the tax team has been a good source of revenue providing vital support to the firm’s outstanding transactional areas.
According to a study, ‘Who Represents Latin America's Biggest Companies’, published by the Latin American Corporate Counsel Association, which is affiliated to Latin Lawyer, BMA represents 29 of 100 of the biggest companies in the region, as among the top 10 Brazilian firms in the rankings.
While BMA has proved its ability to thrive in a difficult economy, the firm has cautiously navigated through the stormy waters of the last three years and has refrained from making big investments. The firm is ready to handle more work in the oil and gas sector, but activity in the industry is yet to pick up after years of low oil prices, political crises, the aftermath of Operation Car Wash and the 2020 health emergency that have hit the market hard.
While BMA’s superstar lawyers like Paulo Cezar Aragão, winner of Latin Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, and Francisco Müssnich continue to handle plenty of transactions, the firm is currently – gradually and behind the scenes – preparing the ground for a smooth transition by empowering a younger league of partners. It is the first time this relatively young firm has had to face a generational handover, but it already has an upcoming team of experienced partners with great expertise handling key matters and clients. If BMA manages to guide the transition as successfully as it handles its high-stakes mandates, there is no doubt that it will retain its natural position at the top of this market’s food chain, sharing a place only with the most formidable competitors.
BMA has already taken firm steps in this direction and Amir Bocayuva Cunha, the firm’s managing partner who was tasked with delivering a smooth transition, says a succession process has been put in place. Bocayuva handles strategic matters including structuring the firm’s succession plan. He also assisted with the implementation of new governance and compensation models. He maintains an active corporate practice and also sits on the firm’s directors committee, which is responsible for handling daily activities. Being able to count on the active advice of such prominent figures during the process is a privilege few in the market have.
As it expanded and gained widespread recognition, BMA was focused on creating a culture of excellence, innovation and results. It is now taking bolder steps to strengthen the governance of the institution as a corporate, full service firm. For instance, it implemented important changes to associate compensation. Before, their salary was strongly linked to the firm’s revenue. Now, there are different levels of compensation that take into consideration the length of the lawyers’ careers, while performance bonuses are paid every six months. The firm has also adopted a more structured assessment for promotions, moving away from revenue contributions to a more qualitative evaluation that considers a wider range of skills.
The firm promoted seven lawyers to partner across its capital markets, corporate and M&A, disputes, tax and restructuring group in 2020. Although rarer, ad hoc lateral hires do take place. As an example, the firm strengthened its tax practice by hiring a practitioner from the local office of global professional services business EY as a partner in September 2021. Earlier in the year, BMA added the former compliance manager of German pharmaceutical company Merz to its white-collar crime offering as a partner.
BMA has also implemented programmes to train its lawyers in non-legal skills, including public speaking and accountancy. They boost its existing educational initiative, BMA Educação, established in 2015.
In a period of renewal for the Brazilian legal market, rivals point to BMA as a firm in which the founding partners are so strong that the next generation has struggled to build their own reputations or gain power and responsibility within the firm. BMA is not only aware of the challenge, but it has also taken firm steps to address the issue. Its second generation has plenty of power and influence within the firm – particularly those on the executive committee, which is formed by the founding partners and all heads of departments.
Steady focus is also placed on succession planning, which is still a work in progress, although much of its structure is ready and approved. The pie, while expanding, is also being cut into ever more slices through successive rounds of promotions. However, the perception issue around the generational handover remains, and largely comes from the fact that for the market to see genuine succession, not only must the younger generation grow but the founding partners must also step out of the limelight – not something that is likely for people with the prominence and ability of BMA’s founders.
Beyond that, however, the firm has made other notable strides towards a modern management ethos, designed to help the firm compete in a marketplace in which the bar is moved ever higher. Its training programme for young lawyers has been fundamentally overhauled to allow the lawyers to provide a deeply practical style of advice, yet steeped in theoretical knowledge. In addition, the firm’s social responsibility programme has been significantly expanded and deepened, including a new and well-thought-out pro bono programme. It also implemented significant adjustments to compensation. All of this while maintaining its leading practices in core areas of Brazil’s corporate legal market.
The strategic management committee is composed of Paulo Cezar Aragão, Francisco Müssnich, Plínio Simões Barbosa, Luiz Antônio Campos, managing partner Amir Bocayuva Cunha, Monique Mavignier, André de Albuquerque Cavalcanti Abbud, Barbara Rosenberg, Carlos Frederico Bingemer and Luiz Fernando Fraga.
BMA is headquartered in Rio de Janeiro and has well-established offices in São Paulo and Brasília.