For the benefit of those who weren’t aware, I was invited by a legal association of independent leading corporate and commercial practitioners, named SCG Legal, to attend one of their meetings in June 2013 in Sao Paulo, Brazil and to address the group and make a case for our membership.
SCG Legal has existed for 25 years and comprises of firms in most jurisdictions globally. It is recognized widely as a very successful organization.
The meeting took place during the course of 2 days and took on the following format: The meeting focused firstly on the region where the meeting took place. In this instance as the meeting took place in Brazil, they arranged high quality speakers amongst, the local commercial law industry. One of the members explained how one should approach advising on commercial law matters in Brazil, a retired Minister of Labour spoke about the labour challenges, a federal appeal court judge of their commercial crime court spoke about the prevention and issues regarding commercial crime, a member of the Olympic bidding committee and an executive from a public partnership for the promotion of investment into Sao Paulo.
Further, the meeting focused on the commercial legal environment in the region and there was a commercial lawyer who addressed the group on mergers and acquisitions, regulatory matters, and 4 in-house councils of the 4 biggest companies in Brazil also addressed the group.
Lastly, there were panel discussions regarding international law matters by a senior lawyer of the association.
I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience with you:
In short there are 200 million people in Brazil, they have 12% of the world’s natural water resources and very little poverty. 50% of Brazil’s GDP is generated in the state of Sao Paulo and 50% of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil.
There are opportunities in infrastructure development, agriculture, financial services and mining.
The state of Sao Paolo is investment friendly because their economy is in need of it. Their investment agency assists foreign investment with free tax and structuring advice and will at no cost arrange the required licenses or government approvals.
Sao Paulo is a great city and the people are very friendly, though quite understandably most of the peoples’ English is not great. My impression is further that there is a lot of politics (which often hinders investment opportunities) and furthermore the labour environment is unstable.
Commercial law environment in Latin America
There has been an increase in mergers and acquisitions by multi nationals in the region. It is a continent which is close to North America and the most logical expansion for US businesses.
Again corruption and politics is a significant concern. There are however certain regional treaties which make doing business easier.
International commercial law practice panel discussion
The discussion focused on the wording of arbitration clauses in agreements and effective mediation and arbitration in international deals.
One aspect which became apparent was that cultural differences do play a role regarding the successful finalization of an arbitration.
An arbitration clause must also make provision for practical matters such as where it will be held, costs, contributions etc.
Furthermore there was a discussion on compliance and risk mitigation best international practices.
I addressed the group on South Africa, the Legal environment of South Africa, myself and our firm. I did feel like a small fish in a large pond, because that was exactly the situation. It was quite strange to talk about South Africa, and myself. It was the strangest thing to speak to people about your thoughts and views, and how you understand and deal with situations.
The only question which I received was “Just tell me one thing – is Oscar guilty?” which of course broke the ice.
It was a great experience to meet and spend time with other commercial lawyers from across the world.
It was mind-blowing the amount of international acquisitions on the go, our prediction proved correct that we must join with a formal international commercial law firm association with substance, in order to add value to our clients.
Just to explain the value add, if one of our clients wishes to set up a business in New York, I can assure the client that I know Stephen who is a prominent commercial lawyer who can assist in this matter. If I did not belong to a similar network I would have been forced to consult Google. This does not work in the context of trust and client relations.
Furthermore the information sharing and focus to obtain regional and cultural knowledge is invaluable.
Lastly the association also focuses on approaching global businesses to pitch to them to rather use the network firms rather than the big global law firms especially from a cost efficiency point of view. In this regard, even the smaller firms in the association have large firm skills, but are more affordable.
It is impossible to be a merger and acquisition lawyer and to only focus on South Africa. Currently 20% of our commercial work is for international clients, therefore the meeting was confirmation that to add more value to our clients we have to increase our practical regional knowledge regarding international transactions.