Clifford Chance LLP is in the global elite, with a highly rated service offer across the board that has afforded it a leading position among international firms in Latin America.
Finance work is the firm’s bread and butter. The Clifford Chance name is heavily associated with highly structured finance transactions, the level of sophistication of which few firms can match. An indisputably top-tier project finance offering is at the forefront of innovative infrastructure financing across Latin America, with a large market share of renewables projects. The team has excellent relations with lenders of all shapes and sizes, including commercial banks, investment banks, private equity players and multilateral lenders. Meanwhile, the capital markets and M&A practices are equally noteworthy. The firm’s global experience and manpower make it well-positioned to do cross-border mega-deals and partners from around the world are often found working on transactions in the region.
Capital markets partner Jonathan Zonis and project finance whizz Fabricio Longhin co-chair the large group, which has recognised names in the region stationed in New York, DC, São Paulo, Madrid and London, who work together well. The firm has a large and well-established team in Brazil led by Anthony Oldfield, who works alongside two other partners within one of the oldest foreign law consultancies in the country. Boasting rock-solid relationships with local corporations, the São Paulo office is a cornerstone of the Latin America practice and counts loyal clients such as LATAM, Klabin and Unigel.
In recent times the Latin America practice group has experienced a handful of key defections: it lost a former practice co-chair (Gianluca Bacchiocchi) and another partner to a US rival at the start of 2021, and a partner in the project finance team followed suit in August. This was some months after the firm’s disputes head for the region left to go solo. Still, there remain a strong cohort of highly capable and established figures whose talent the firm can continue to draw on for Latin American mandates.
In 2020, Clifford Chance’s close links with lenders led it to do a great amount of work on rescue financings linked to the covid-19 pandemic. A highlight for the capital markets team was the firm’s role on the first sovereign social bond issuance to raise funds to address the crisis (by the Republic of Guatemala). Clifford Chance represented the underwriting bank in that deal.
More generally, the firm makes it its mission to take advantage of opportunities in smaller markets, a strategy that has led lawyers to pick up the lion’s share of innovative lawyering in those places; for example, it is shaping project finance deals in places like Uruguay and Paraguay, working on mega, first-of-their-kind projects in both countries. This considered adaptive approach enables Clifford Chance to continue to build upon its Latin America practice by finding new markets and new ways to present its services to the market.
Clifford Chance has good relationships with several sovereigns in the region. In Brazil, lawyers have spent time in Brasília to position the firm to take advantage of a spike in demand for energy and infrastructure financing. The firm was appointed by the Argentine government to advise on its PPP and renewables programmes, which led to a string of deals in that country. It has also advised the state of Ecuador on capital markets and derivatives work and given counsel to Costa Rica on sovereign bonds.
Of the magic circle firms operating in Latin America, Clifford Chance is both one of the most visible and committed. It pays attention to future generations in a bid to protect its position and has made sure to include Latin American-born talent in its organic growth. This helps it penetrate markets across the region, as does the number of fluent Spanish and Portuguese speakers within the Latin American practice, which is close to 40.
The Latin American group in the US and Brazil continue to work closely with Clifford Chance’s office in Madrid, where the firm has a leading position, to target Spanish companies looking for corporate and infrastructure opportunities in Latin America. It takes a similar position towards its base in China. It is increasingly common to see teams working on Latin American deals drawn from a range of locations.
The firm was an early opener in São Paulo and the base is a central part of the practice. New York houses the rest of the practice’s finance and corporate capacity, while the projects and disputes teams sit in DC. Madrid and Beijing are playing an increasingly important role, and Clifford Chance pulls in resources from London, Paris and elsewhere.