Pinheiro Neto has been at the pinnacle of Brazil’s elite firms since the birth of the country’s legal market. In fact, this law firm, which was founded by José Martins Pinheiro Neto in São Paulo in 1942, has been a driving force for the development of Brazil's dynamic, fiercely competitive and increasingly institutionalised legal market. For many years, Pinheiro Neto was the training ground for the best and most successful lawyers in the country, shaping many who went on to found what have become today’s top law firms. The outfit’s sense of tradition is one side of the coin; the other is its capacity to drive forward innovative legal work.
With an extraordinary ability to adapt to new markets, Pinheiro Neto constantly breaks ground. It is the first Brazilian elite firm to have a permanent office in Japan – one of Brazil’s largest foreign investors – having nurtured close relationships with Japanese clients since the 1970s. Companies from the heavy industries as well as from the financial, automotive, paper and healthcare sectors have relied on the practice time and again for key investments in Brazil. Pinheiro Neto’s Tokyo office was inaugurated shortly after the outfit opened its office in Palo Alto – again the first Brazilian legal service to do so.
The firm innovates in many other ways. It has launched an innovation committee and hired a consultancy to help it use technology more effectively. The focus is on developing tools for lawyers and clients alike. One example is a litigation tool that creates reports for clients with real-time developments.
Pinheiro Neto innovates from a base of utter respect for its origins and core values. Its culture mirrors the likes of the top US and UK firms. Compared to competitors in Brazil, the firm’s marketing initiatives are more discreet, and it takes a subtler approach to client generation. Above all, it is a culture that advocates for structured organic growth based on the provision of higher education and on-the-job training. Pinheiro Neto has, for decades, carefully crafted its own talent. The partner career path includes rigorous training programmes, studying at some of the world’s most prestigious universities and spending time at prominent law firms in the United States and Europe. Here, lawyers hone their skills and gather substantial international experience. Technical skills are not everything, however. Pinheiro Neto puts substantial emphasis on lawyers’ soft skills, including communication, commercial understanding and leadership. It has a psychologist available for employees, who constantly conducts research within the firm and reports on well-being and human resources issues to the management.
As a reflection of this tradition – as well as another year of strong performance – the firm appointed six partners at the start of 2023, boosting its life sciences, M&A, tax and compliance teams. The year before, the firm made nine new partners and two counsel.
Pinheiro Neto’s growth strategy means that it only lets into the partnership those who have spent enough time at the practice to fully absorb its way of operating – indeed, 90% of its partners went all the way from trainee to equity partner. Such a model leaves little room for lateral recruitment at the senior level. This is deliberate: senior associate and counsel hires are rare, while partner recruitment is unheard of. In a highly unusual move, the practice added a former Administrative Council for Economic Defence (CADE) prosecutor as counsel to its antitrust team in 2022 – this was its third counsel hire ever.
The length of time each partner has spent at Pinheiro Neto translates into a level of cohesion that is exceptional. Indeed, the partnership is synonymous with stability at this firm. Rarely does a partner leave unless they are retiring (three partners retired in 2022), and no rival has lured a partner from this firm yet. This security is a result of numerous factors, including a one-vote-per-partner rule, absolute internal transparency towards partner compensation and decision-making, and the sense of accomplishment attached to belonging to this distinctive inner circle. The appeal of these factors is what helped Pinheiro Neto become the first legal service in Latin America to reach the 100-equity-partner mark – a feat indeed.
With such a dedicated team, Pinheiro Neto has been able to maintain its leading position across multiple practice areas, displaying leadership in both transactional and non-transactional work. It offers broad and deep legal support to companies in a way few others – if any – can match, especially at such a prominent level of expertise. In that sense, the firm easily adapts to the booms and busts of the local market. The current uncertainty in the financial market keeps investors cautious, leading to less transactional work. On the other side of the coin, however, the firm has increased its market share in disputes and tax litigation, and that is set to continue with Brazil’s looming tax reform. High-interest rates are causing financial headaches for clients, leading to increased restructuring work for the firm – an area in which it is highly capable. With interest rates predicted to decrease later in 2023, however, the firm expects a strong comeback in the equity markets.
Pinheiro Neto is synonymous with innovative legal matters and can point to its role in the largest, most complex and most innovative deals year after year. It can boast of deals in disruptive industries, such as fintech, open banking and insurtech, and the firm’s regulatory know-how, especially concerning the Central Bank, is practically unrivalled. It has helped WhatsApp and Mastercard set up digital payment services in Brazil, while Pier Seguradora became the first Brazilian insurtech start-up to apply for a permanent licence at the regulatory sandbox of Brazil’s Superintendence of Private Insurance, thanks to the firm’s assistance. Pinheiro Neto also represented one of the creditors in LATAM Airlines’ recent Chapter 11 restructuring – the deal won Latin Lawyer’s Deal of the Year Award in the restructuring category. All these mandates give a sense of the calibre of Pinheiro Neto's deal-making capacity. To round it off, the firm is consistently among the top three performers in Latin Lawyer’s Deal Tracker Reports, in terms of transactional volume.
What’s more, according to the study, “Who Represents Latin America's Biggest Companies”, published by the Latin American Corporate Counsel Association (LACCA), which is affiliated to Latin Lawyer, Pinheiro Neto represents a significant majority (70 of the 100) of the largest companies in the region. Unsurprisingly, that makes it the most popular legal service provider among this client base in the entire region. Its impressively broad list of clientele includes big names such as Vale, JBS, Ecopetrol, FEMSA, Grupo Ultra, Cargill, Cosan, Facebook, Amazon, América Móvil, Natura and Suzano – among many others.
The success of Pinheiro Neto’s model is evidenced palpably: client trust. The firm is known for providing a safe harbour for legal departments handling the most sensitive matters. It has a reputation for its impeccable ethics – long before its competitors did, it implemented strict internal governance checks and balances.
Pinheiro Neto modernised its management structures earlier than any of its competitors, gradually adopting a system of partner collaboration that has proved to be both profitable and fair. The one-vote-per-partner system – no matter their seniority – assures that every partner has a say. In other words, the firm invests a lot of time in decision-making. The consequence of such a democratic structure means that major arrangements can take longer to finalise. However, more than simply reaching a majority, this system puts a huge emphasis on building consensus as well as shared and deeply rooted goals and strategies.
The management regularly conducts surveys within the organisation to assess how employees view the firm. As a direct result of this, Pinheiro Neto has leased an additional office in São Paulo, near its headquarters, as lawyers said they prefer to spend more time in the office as society has returned to normal after the pandemic. Many lawyers also requested access to individual office space, so the management decided to expand.
For all its leading practice and forward-thinking culture, there is one aspect in which Pinheiro Neto lags behind other firms in the market. Of its 117 partners, only 19 are women (around 16%). Pinheiro Neto is adamant about its meritocratic career path; its evaluations for promotion are clear and considered, to a great extent, to be fair too. Yet that fails to explain why so few of those promoted to partner are women. However, there are signs that it is addressing this gap. About a third of lawyers in the two most recent partner promotion rounds have been women. The firm has a diversity committee and, following advice from an external consultancy, it has hired a full-time professional focusing on diversity at the practice. This has led to a complete X-ray of the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, and clearer coordination of the policies addressing these matters. The diversity committee contains sub-groups so that junior, mid-level and senior associates can discuss specific challenges and bring them to their partners’ attention, a reflection of the varying issues that women face at various points in their careers. A mentoring programme is intended to connect female associates with more senior role models. The parental leave scheme includes extended leave for both parents (including for same-gender couples), part-time work, a lactation room and daycare assistance. Women on family leave now receive a bonus based on the average of the previous semester’s bonus.
Pinheiro Neto’s work in diversity does not start and end with gender. Initiatives to improve the firm’s racial diversity are high on the agenda – particularly when it looks for new hires, including interns and trainees. In this way, the firm hopes to attract young talent of diverse backgrounds, train them and eventually hire them as full-time lawyers. This will contribute to greater equality in Brazilian society by helping parts of the population gain stronger representation.
Finally, the firm carefully considers its environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and understands the importance of giving back to society. Pinheiro Neto was an early pioneer in the environmental law practice, which has made its mark. At the moment, the firm is refocusing its philanthropy funding upon education-focused projects. Additionally, the practice became carbon neutral many years ago. For that achievement, together with its other initiatives, Pinheiro Neto was recognised as the first-ever recipient of Latin Lawyer’s ESG Initiative Award in 2023.
Former managing partner Alexandre Bertoldi became chairman in 2023, while Fernando Alves Meira is the firm’s new managing partner. Meira has shadowed Bertoldi over the past few years. Both sit on the steering committee that also features Bruno Balduccini, Fernando Zorzo, Francisco Werneck Maranhão, Giuliano Colombo, Henry Sztutman, José Mauro Decoussau Machado, Luiz Roberto Peroba, Vânia Marques Ribeiro and Vicente Coelho Araújo.
Most of the lawyers are based in the São Paulo head office, although smaller but active bases are maintained in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. Pinheiro Neto also has offices in Palo Alto and Tokyo.
Alliances & networks
Pinheiro Neto is a core member of the prestigious Club de Abogados.