Linklaters is one of the top international firms for cross-border transactional work in Latin America. The magic circle firm deploys a compact yet highly skilled group of partners to deliver results. It focuses on the financial industry and boasts a long list of loyal, prominent banks as clients. The firm is known globally as a corporate titan and has made high-value M&A work a core part of its strategy in Latin America.
Linklaters' Latin America team is smaller in headcount than some of its competitors. This is deliberate. Having a smaller team means greater emphasis is afforded to key client relationships, say this group’s leaders. The practice group also benefits hugely from the firm’s global footprint. Linklaters brings together lawyers across teams in Europe and Asia to work alongside lawyers stationed in New York, São Paulo and London. A consequence of a vast global network is that many Linklaters partners have spent considerable time working in multiple offices. This has given them valuable experience of different legal products, which they can then apply to other markets.
The New York office is the driver for much of Linklaters’ deal-making in the region, particularly outside of Brazil. The firm has a small but highly effective team in São Paulo, having been in Brazil in one form or another for 20 years. (Previously, it had a then-revolutionary local law alliance with noted local firm Lefosse Advogados, but now the firms work together on a case-by-case basis in the same way the UK firm might work with other local names.)
The leadership of the practice group is shared by Conrado Tenaglia, Matthew Poulter, Vijaya Palaniswamy, Michael Bassett and Andrew Compton in New York. Former Latin American co-head Alberto Luzárraga retired in 2020 but has since returned as a partner based in Brazil following the departure of Brazilian lawyer Gabriel Silva in 2021.
The team has a deep cultural understanding of and commitment to Latin America, demonstrating the latter through the appointment of a new partner in 2020 (in the projects and infrastructure group). Despite the region’s persistent volatility, Linklaters believes its fundamentals still have much to offer a global firm that focuses on cross-border work. Cleverly, Linklaters has built a great amount of experience in deals involving digital infrastructure (it has a global practice dedicated to the industry). As businesses and individuals rely more and more on cloud services, the firm is in the fortunate position of being able to tap into that demand. It led several such deals in 2020. Other sectors are also strategically important; oil and gas accounts for a lot of Linklaters’ mandates, as do retail and telecoms. Meanwhile, a partner appointment in the Latin American arbitration group in early 2021 positions the firm to undertake more contentious work involving the region.
The firm is strongest in Brazil, in part because it is the go-to counsel for state-owned energy company Petrobras on international deals. Petrobras’ multi-billion-dollar divestment programme has generated a huge volume of deals for Linklaters in recent years. The firm also has strong relationships with investment funds targeting Latin America’s largest market.
Practice group leaders anticipate Brazil will be the engine of the Latin America practice group machine in years to come. But the firm is also targeting the Andean region, and while Argentina is expected to account for a smaller share of its work, for the time being, Linklaters plans to draw on its historical connections and wealth of deal-making experience in that country to do more debt restructuring and liability management work. In all these countries, Linklaters represents important local corporations. The firm tapped into the potential of multi-latinas as an important client base some time ago, correctly recognising that they would need legal advisers with cross-border capabilities to aid with their expansion and financing needs. Among the firm’s Latin American clients are Argentina’s Telecom Argentina, Genneia and Corporación América; Brazil’s Petrobras, Braskem, Suzano, BRF and Marfrig; Chile’s Falabella, CSAV, Masisa and Sodimac; and Colombia’s Ecopetrol and Isagen. These entities regularly use the firm, alongside recognised European clients and Asian players such as Temasek, Japanese conglomerate Sojitz and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
Linklaters has positioned itself to help companies adapt to changing business scenarios. The firm participates in the UN Global Compact Initiative and has sponsored the Latin American chapter since its inception, for example. As companies embrace sustainable investments that seek to benefit vulnerable social groups and the environment, Linklaters has been at the forefront of social impact bonds in Latin America, a niche that is expected to grow. The firm itself should also get recognition for its commitment to promulgating diversity and inclusion in the region’s business sectors. For the past five years, it has teamed up with Goldman Sachs to run a diversity project in Brazil. It has also teamed up with a university in Chile for an initiative promoting diversity there.
The firm invests heavily in its relationships with local firms and clients. It has a comparatively sophisticated referral system with Latin American firms, through which it streamlines processes with those it uses most and targets the Latin American banks and companies it does not already represent. Linklaters requires its associates to specialise in at least two practice areas, to cross-sell its services. If a client likes an associate in the capital markets team, he or she can assist them on banking matters too, which allows for continuity of service and deeper relationships, while enabling lawyers to broaden their skills.
New York and São Paulo are the twin bases for the practice. Linklaters is notable for being able to use its European strength for investment into and out of Latin America. The firm’s London home and a strong office in Madrid, with both Spanish and English-qualified lawyers, are also highly involved, while Lisbon, Paris, Brussels and Milan all have Latin American connections. The firm also evidences a growing number of deals with a strong Asian link.