Six years have passed since Cuatrecasas embarked on its ambitious Latin American expansion project, and the firm has landed with a bang. The move represented a change in strategy for the Iberian powerhouse, setting its sights on becoming one of the region’s leading players. Since then, the firm has established a presence across each of the Pacific Alliance countries, along with a cohort of leading practitioners at their helms.
Growth has been phenomenal and Cuatrecasas now counts more than 100 lawyers throughout its local offices. The firm has been one of the most active recruiters in Latin America over the past few years, with plans to continue investing heavily in the region.
Instead of incorporating existing outfits in the region like some of its peers have done, the firm prefers to take the controversial, and arguably more laborious route, of cherry-picking the very best of local talent. Its reputation for excellence has attracted lawyers of the highest calibre, lured by Cuatrecasas’ bold approach to expansion in the region and a dynamism that is less common among some of the more traditional, established family outfits in the local market.
The firm has appointed several high-profile names to strengthen its regional offering so far. Among the many recruits was Roberto Guerrero – former managing partner of Chilean Latin Lawyer Elite firm Guerrero Olivos – who now leads Cuatrecasas’ corporate practice in Santiago, and Manuel Fernando Quinche – former banking and finance practice head at Colombian Latin Lawyer Elite firm Brigard Urrutia – who is now managing partner of the Bogotá office. More recently in 2022, the firm hired Alberto Zuleta-Londoño, former disputes head of Holland & Knight (Colombia), to boost the Bogotá office, while Rodrigo Stein, a former a tax-specialist from KPMG, was appointed to lead its efforts in that field in Chile.
All four Latin American offices now provide services in four core practice areas: M&A, finance, disputes and tax. Of the four, Mexico is the most established. The office has grown through a mix of organic growth and lateral hiring and now has a sizable number of both Mexican and Spanish lawyers focusing on disputes, tax, real estate and energy work. It does a lot of work for Pemex on infrastructure projects, while Grupo Financiero Interacciones and the Inter-American Development Bank are also clients.
The Chilean, Colombian and Peruvian offices are newer; the Chilean office stands out for a solid set of corporate partners poached from Guerrero Olivos, as well as a prominent disputes team and growing expertise in regulatory and venture capital matters. The Colombian office contains strong transactional lawyers, drawing on the firm’s earlier experience in that market operating under an exclusive agreement with Posse Herrera Ruiz. The outfit also has rising disputes and infrastructure groups. Meanwhile, the Peruvian office has robust transactional, tax and arbitration groups.
Now that the firm is in command of the teams it wants in each market, the focus continues to be on cohesion between the offices.
The New York outpost plays an increasingly prominent role for the Latin America group. In September 2022, Cuatrecasas appointed Alfonso Ugarte as resident partner in New York, where he will lead the firm's Latin American practice group (corporate, N&A and finance) in the United States. Ugarte is the first Chilean resident partner of one of the firm’s offices abroad. In NY, he works closely with partners Antonio Baena and Diego Pérez-Yarza. The office works to maximise Cuatrecasas’ visibility to Canadian and US clients, particularly in private equity, and helps these clients identify opportunities in Latin America, opening the door for its local offices to step in.
In addition to its strength in corporate, finance, arbitration and tax, Cuatrecasas is growing its compliance practice in Spain, something it would like to leverage in Latin America. It is increasingly doing work on investigations, helping clients under scrutiny.
Spanish clients are naturally a mainstay for Cuatrecasas and several use the firm for their operations in Latin America, not least telecoms leader Telefónica, pharmaceutical company Faes Farma, and banks BBVA and Santander. US companies, such as Cargill and Caterpillar, also use the firm, while financial sponsors like Victoria Capital Partners, Riverwood and Colombia’s Invivas Global Investment have turned here. Industry-wise, oil and gas accounts for a great amount of work, particularly in Mexico, while renewables, real estate, hospitality, insurance and mining are also important areas – the latter especially in Peru.
Cuatrecasas has partners doing Latin American work from offices in Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid and New York, as well as a foreign law consultancy in Brazil. The emphasis of the Latin American practice is firmly on offices in the region practising local law. These are in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Cuatrecasas also has dedicated country desks for certain jurisdictions where it does not have a presence: Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Central America. Complementing its offering is a Shanghai branch that caters to Asian investment in Latin America, while the firm’s Africa desk – with ties to Angola and Mozambique – completes a three-way Portuguese-language vector.