Pinheiro Neto has been at the pinnacle of Brazil’s elite firms since the birth of the country’s legal market. In fact, the development of Brazil's dynamic, fiercely competitive and increasingly institutionalised market is in many ways connected to the driving force of this legal practice, which was established by founding partner José Martins Pinheiro Neto in São Paulo in 1942. For many years, Pinheiro Neto was the school 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.
Pinheiro Neto constantly breaks new ground. Not long ago, it became 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 and financial, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors have relied on the practice time and again for key investments in Brazil. The list includes newcomers, such as prominent start-up and technology investor Softbank. 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.
Pinheiro Neto innovates from a base of utter respect for its origins and core values. Its culture mirrors the likes of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, Slaughter and May and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. 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 the United Kingdom. Here, lawyers hone their skills and gather substantial international experience. As a reflection of a strong delivery in 2021, the outfit appointed nine new partners and two counsel in 2022 to its M&A, banking and finance, tax, aviation and criminal law practices. In the previous year, Pinheiro Neto promoted five to partner.
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 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. Overall, this strategy puts Pinheiro Neto on the other side of the fence from many of its local counterparts, which have grown – sometimes rapidly – by absorbing newcomers, but this decision has paid off in spades.
The length of time each partner has spent at Pinheiro Neto translates into a level of cohesion that is exceptionally unique. Indeed, at the practice, partnership is synonymous with stability. Rarely does a partner leave unless they are retiring, 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. Its name is synonymous with cutting-edge matters. For example, it helped WhatsApp and Mastercard set up digital payment services in Brazil, having passed several regulatory hurdles with the Central Bank of Brazil. The mandate is one of many examples that displays the outfit’s active advice in disruptive industries, such as fintech and insurtech. In the latter, it advised Pier Seguradora in a funding round that helped it become the first Brazilian insurtech start-up to apply for a permanent licence at the regulatory sandbox of Brazil’s Superintendence of Private Insurance. Other recent work highlights have seen the practice advise Brazil's National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) in an emergency loan to the Chamber of Electric Energy Commercialisation to prevent power price hikes in Brazil. It also helped Nubank in its $2.6 billion initial public offering (IPO) – the transaction won the Latin Lawyer’s Deal of the Year Award in the capital markets category. All these agreements give a sense of the calibre of Pinheiro Neto's dealmaking capacity. Its M&A work was also outstanding in 2021 – a record year in which it advised on 210 transactions.
According to the study, ‘Who Represents Latin America's Biggest Companies,’ published by the Latin American Corporate Counsel Association, which is affiliated to Latin Lawyer, Pinheiro Neto represents 47 of the 100 largest corporates in the region. That makes it one of the three most popular legal service providers among this client base in the entire region. Its impressively broad list of clientele includes big names such as Petrobras, Vale, Ecopetrol, FEMSA, Braskem, Cargill, Cosan, Facebook, Telefônica, Natura and Suzano – among many others.
The success of Pinheiro Neto’s model is evidenced palpably: client trust. The outfit 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, it implemented strict internal governance checks and balances.
Naturally, clients continue to provide lavish feedback. In-house counsel praises lawyers’ commitment, expertise and tailored services, as well as quick responses. “They are very competent,” says a patron from the energy industry. The same client is clearly satisfied with the services provided. “Good solutions have always been presented,” they say. Companies relying on Pinheiro Neto’s legal services are also impressed by how its practice groups work together and how they structure their advice. For example, a representative from a consultancy group praises the “methodology of the work and the way the teams and different areas are involved to cover all important issues of the cases.” They also highlighted “availability, agility and specific technical knowledge” as particularly strong attributes of the lawyers. In the fintech sector, in which Pinheiro Neto has been highly active lately, the representative of one company commends the firm’s knowledge of the industry and its willingness to explore innovative activities.
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.
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 114 partners, only 18 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 serious about addressing this gap. Between 33% and 40% of lawyers in the two most recent partner promotion rounds have been women. The firm is also working to retain more women as they move up the career ladder. There is an internal committee focused on gender equality issues that is structured into sub-groups so that junior, mid-level and senior associates can discuss specific challenges and bring them to 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 maternity 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 is high on the agenda – particularly when it looks for new hires, including interns and trainees. In this way, the practice hopes to attract young talent of a diverse background, 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.
Managing partner Alexandre Bertoldi continues to oversee the practice, but as of late 2020, he is joined by corporate and M&A partner Fernando Meira. Meira will shadow Bertoldi until the end of 2022 before taking over the reins of daily strategic affairs, with Bertoldi moving to a chair role at the start of 2023. Both sit on the steering committee that also features Bruno Balduccini, Fernando dos Santos Zorzo, Francisco Werneck Maranhão, Giuliano Colombo, Henry Sztutman, José Mauro Decoussau Machado, Luiz Roberto Peroba, Vânia Marques Ribeiro and Vicente Coelho Araujo.
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.