As the first of the Spanish firms to establish a footing in Latin America, it is of little surprise that Garrigues is one of the top three Iberian outfits operating in the region.
While Latin America has always been a natural area of influence for this Spanish firm, playing an important role in its international strategy, its relevance has continued to soar. The firm boasts highly regarded teams in the capitals of all four countries of the Pacific Alliance, as well as a long-standing foreign law consultancy in São Paulo, all of which have continued to expand.
Garrigues has always focused on making the most of opportunities at its regional operations and firm leaders are keenly aware that its strong diversification, in terms of countries and practice areas, is a huge advantage when managing situations as uncertain as those we are currently seeing across some of Latin America’s largest jurisdictions. This strategy has been paying off and its far-reaching presence has provided a sturdy foundation amidst the tumultuous political and economic backdrop of the past few years.
Garrigues’ financial returns from the region have been continuously strong. Fernando Vives, the executive chairman and managing partner of the firm, has long believed in Latin America’s ample opportunities and is a key figure behind its investment in the region.
The firm has long targeted infrastructure, energy and transport work, structuring its local teams accordingly to include public law, finance, capital markets, M&A and tax lawyers. Within that general framework, the local offices have their strengths too. In Santiago, there are particularly well-regarded banking and disputes partners, as is the case in Lima. The team in Colombia has a solid reputation in tax and in Mexico, the firm is most visible for both transactional and tax work.
Investment in people has been the firm’s core strategy and is very much key to its success. All four of Garrigues’ offices in Latin America have experienced growth in headcount over the past few years, and each can now confidently boast of being truly multidisciplinary practices. Tax has been one area in which the firm has bolstered its offering with notable hires in both Chile and Colombia.
These offices deserve credit for competing for work with some of the elite firms in those markets, despite purposely being smaller in size. They get positive reviews from the companies that hire them, with several citing lawyers’ flexibility, accountability and personalised approach. Given Garrigues’ long history in Latin America, roughly a quarter of its clients do business there. Some of the largest Spanish and Portuguese corporations are on its books and across its local network, the firm also boasts a large number of regional players. According to a study by the Latin American Corporate Counsel Association – which is affiliated to Latin Lawyer, the firm represents 24 of the region’s largest companies, including Grupo Ultra, Ambev, Gerdau, Codelco, Grupo Bimbo and food-delivery company Rappi – Colombia’s first unicorn.
An important characteristic of Garrigues is the level of integration between offices, which is a big selling point for clients, who like being able to tap into a seamless level of service around the region. This is reflected by the fact all four local law offices feature in the Latin Lawyer 250. Javier Ybáñez leads the Latin America practice group from Madrid, but he works closely with local office heads Oscar Arrús in Peru, Jaime Iglesias in Colombia and Mexico and Luis Felipe Merino in Chile.
Another trademark of Garrigues’ success in Latin America is that most of its work in the region is now handled by lawyers based on the ground there, as opposed to being done in the Spanish HQ. Garrigues has also been more successful at capturing transactional work than another foreign competitor with similar strategies in Latin America. It has a particularly large share of local capital markets work in Chile and Peru, for example.
Garrigues invests heavily in the training of its lawyers. Every practitioner joining the firm spends at least two weeks in Madrid, returning after two years and again after six, meeting the same colleagues, who might be from offices in Europe or Asia. The firm also supports lawyers wishing to do an LLM, either through the firm’s own education institute or online through Fordham University. Local offices also have their training programmes and exchanges between Spanish and Latin American offices are common.
While its local offices are front and centre for Latin American work, its distinguished Spanish-law offering should not be forgotten. The firm’s top-tier reputation in Spain is well known in Latin America, where its corporate, M&A, finance, disputes and tax offerings are strongest.
Over the past five years, the firm has invested around €60 million in digitalisation and technology to be more efficient and help clients in their own digital transformation processes. In the last year, it has also launched a global programme for ongoing training in digital skills for its lawyers.
Garrigues is also deeply committed to its ESG objectives and strengthening diversity and equal opportunities across all levels of the organisation, especially in those roles with more responsibility. In the last promotion round, the firm approved 16 new equity partners, half of them women, and they continue collaborating with different organisations committed to promoting the role of women in the legal profession.
Garrigues has local law offices in Bogotá, Mexico City, Lima and Santiago, as well as a foreign law consultancy in São Paulo. In Spain, Madrid is the main base of the Latin American practice, although the firm has a large capillary network of offices throughout the country. New York and Lisbon are also key. Garrigues has offices in Beijing and Shanghai, both of which are useful for the Latin American practice group.