2021 Latin Lawyer Elite firm
Colombia’s Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (PPU) is steeped in transactional prowess. While this firm may have preserved a well-earned shelf of plaudits for its reputable M&A and banking offering, it is lauded greatly in Colombia for its finely polished project finance and antitrust departments. Clients can choose too from a replete selection of non-transactional practice areas, where the firm does exceptionally and consistently well.
PPU is the result of the 2015 merger between two prominent firms that topped the rankings in their home countries, Colombia and Chile. Financial and logistical support was added in the form of Iberian firm Uría Menéndez, a vital ingredient for an ideal meeting of transactional and regulatory expertise. PPU added two Peruvian outfits into the mix in 2016 and continues to pursue ambitions for expansion to Mexico. Establishing a Mexican footprint would give the firm full coverage of the Pacific Alliance markets, though the firm is yet to find fertile ground for such a move with the covid-19 pandemic hindering opportunities for growth in 2020.
Despite incoming headwinds from the global slowdown due to the health emergency, PPU has made time to carve out space for an insurance practice with the incorporation of a local boutique in June 2020. Insurance partner Rebeca Herrera joined PPU along with two associates from her former group. The launch of an insurance practice amid the pandemic shrewdly sharpened the firm’s talents in conjunction with a monumental rise in insurance and litigation claims as the health crisis triggered the cancellation of travel, events and other activities in droves. This is one among many examples of PPU’s tuned-in resolve to rise to opportunity, even when the going gets tough.
As more foreign firms look towards new opportunities in Colombia, PPU’s presence across three of Latin America’s largest economies and a direct line to Uría Menéndez’ network in Europe and China gives the Colombian office a secure footing. With long-established roots as a leading contender in the market, PPU is in an ideal position to attract high-profile talent and gives it a surveying position over some of the most sophisticated legal work on offer.
The Colombian outfit was kept busy last year by the country’s fourth-generation (4G) scheme to renovate its national road network, which won it work on some noteworthy transactions. International clients also enlisted the firm for lucrative project finance work: Chinese state-owned group China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC called on the firm to help it place a winning bid of US$1.2 billion for a railway project in Bogotá. The covid-19 pandemic may have put a damper on the deal-making last year, but an agile PPU took the first pick of some of Colombia’s most relevant deals and transactional work despite the uncertainty thanks to a well-oiled reputation as a regional elite. In another landmark deal, the firm helped in the first-ever social bonds issuance by a Latin American infrastructure project when a local concession group owned by Spain’s Sacyr made a US$202 million issuance earlier this year.
Year after year, PPU presents an impressive roster of clients. Its banking and finance prowess attracts the likes of banks such as JP Morgan, Itaú and Santander. Meanwhile, it also counts telecoms giant Nokia, US aviation group United Airlines and Colombian electricity supplier Celsia among the list of highly esteemed companies that called on the firm's expertise in 2020. 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, PPU advises 14 of the 100 largest companies in Latin America, making it one of the most popular firms among these clients in Colombia.
One of the ways in which adapted to those changes in 2020, was by investing in its most valuable asset: people. PPU’s legal professionals are complemented by highly equipped back-office intelligence. In 2020, the firm weathered the logistical difficulties presented by lockdown restrictions by ensuring its full staff – from front-of-house to attorneys– was equipped with the latest technology and cutting-edge software. Its regional footprint provided an abundant pool of resources to ensure its professionals remained top of their game, even working remotely. The expansive reach of PPU’s Bogotá office is rooted too in its Iberian ties to Spanish law firm Uría Menéndez, which is an influential shareholder of PPU’s Chilean and Peruvian operations as well.
It is no surprise the firm adapted so diligently in the crisis, given that integration of expertise is a long-standing pillar, and a practice the firm has demonstrated fluently over the years. Connections between Peru, Chile and Colombia remain fully engaged with increased collaboration between departments and a fluid channel of communication between the offices.
Where multidisciplinary work is concerned, departments synch up too and allow clients to benefit from the highest level of service. Transactional practice areas such as corporate, banking and project finance can naturally complement each other when the occasion arises, while tax and arbitration expertise often work closely together too. This equilibrium is further harmonised by an even split of the firm’s profits between partners.
PPU’s far-reaching regional presence maintains its excellence through a regular review of its international model. At the start of this year, the firm refreshed its leadership with the election of a new regional management team. The renewal of the executive team is repeated in a four-year cycle, which helps the firm lays a fertile ground for growth consistent with a quickly evolving market.
The firm maintains a closely-knit relationship with Uría Menendez, which holds a stake in the regional operation, through a cross-over that places members from both firms on each other’s respective executive committees.
While 2020 left the future looking uncertain for many pockets of the regional market and the global economy, PPU has its sight firmly set on growth. Namely, it looks to put down roots in Latin America’s second-largest economy— Mexico. The firm has spelled out its desire to launch a Mexican office for some years, though it is widely anticipated this move is imminent in the next few years. While clients can expect to watch this space for that development, more long-term goals include a possible expansion to Central America, as PPU eyes the Costa Rican and Panamanian markets as potential launchpads.
Practitioners at PPU can look forward to a promising future ahead too, with a well-established career ladder within the firm. The firm’s lawyers can benefit from a comprehensive training programme on important skills such as finance and accounting, while there are ample opportunities for employees to engage in activities that help grow networking, team-building and managerial skills among others. Flex-time is an option for those who want to manage their work and home life more equitably, which became an important advantage that many took the office up amid the stay at home orders during the health emergency. Meanwhile, a dedicated diversity committee remains vigilant in ensuring it oversees a well-rounded and versatile set of lawyers and staff. Talent at the firm rarely goes unnoticed, and associates’ ambitions are rewarded with a successful application process to join the partnership. Budding attorneys at the firm can hope to become partners after 12 years of service on average, though that’s not to say that a few rising stars can’t break that mould.
PPU’s Colombian offices are in the capital Bogotá and the bustling port city of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast. PPU’s regional presence reaches Santiago and Lima too.
Alliances and networks
PPU benefits from Uría Menendez’s widespread family connections, which intertwines it with some of the most esteemed firms internationally and in Latin America. Among its blue-blooded best friends is UK firm Slaughter & May LLP while it also has access to contacts at leading Argentine firm Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal.
Colombian partner and former co-chair Martín Acero directs regional operations across Chile, Colombia and Peru as the managing partner across the three outposts. Acero assumed the position in 2020 after the firm renewed its regional management. The firm’s board members include Chile’s Carlos Alberto Reyes, Jorge Di Terlizzi in Colombia and Lima-based Walker Villanueva. The recently elected board include Salvador Sánchez Terán and Luis de Carlos from Uría Menéndez.