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March 24, 2009

"Reinventing" the Latin American Law Firm--Part I of II

By Fernando E. Rivadeneyra, Puebla, Mexico

Editor's Note: Fernando Rivadeneyra is much more than a talented and highly-regarded business lawyer who works literally all over the world. He is also a colleague and a close friend. My partner Julie McGuire and I have met with Fernando and other members of his firm, Rivadeneyra, Treviño & de Campo, countless times over the past ten years in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. We have worked together on client projects. Like our firm, Rivadeneyra, Treviño is an active member of the International Business Law Consortium, a working alliance of law and accounting firms based in Salzburg, Austria.

A founding partner of Rivadeneyra, Treviño, Fernando works in mergers and acquisitions, corporate structuring, foreign investments, and private international law. He is a member of the International Bar Association, the Mexican-American Law Institute, and its Export Support Group, and is Vice-President of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce--Puebla Chapter.

His article--on fundamental changes in Latin American law firms--will be run in two parts. Part I, below, discusses changes Puebla-based Rivadeneyra, Treviño & de Campo has made in the last three years. Part II, which WAC? will run later this week, focuses on implementing those changes. Jodie Paula Cohen, head of Client Relations at Rivadeneyra, Treviño & de Campo assisted in the preparation of this article.


"Reinventing" the Latin American Law Firm

Three years ago, the founding partners of my firm, Rivadeneyra, Treviño & de Campo, based in Puebla, Mexico, took a hard look at the fast-changing global legal terrain. We decided to radically change the structure and management of our firm. The objective: to better position ourselves within the increasingly globalized legal markets. That goal had already been admirably achieved by many overseas law firms, and the in-house legal departments worldwide.

However, reorganizing law firms in Latin America poses different challenges, and requires fundamental and difficult changes in the way firms are organized in this region. Latin American law firms have certain traditions--including some very old ones--which we needed to address. This article, hopefully, will be useful to other law firms who assist clients in Mexico, and in-house legal counsel of companies that operate here. It will highlight the advances which are being made in the region, the obstacles, and what can be expected in the future.

Turning lawyers into pro-active business people

In Latin America, lawyers historically have not been active in marketing and selling their services. Our firm’s lawyers are now encouraged--indeed expected--to support our focus on both national in Mexico and overseas expansion. By explicitly linking their compensation to the number and quality of new clients they bring to the firm, and by training them in marketing and sales techniques, we hope to overturn a long-embraced tradition of "not selling"--and make our lawyers highly "engaged" and pro-active business people.

When recruiting new lawyers and paralegals, we search for specific talents, cultural attributes and experience which can help make the firm a true player in the global marketplace. For example, Latin American firms are currently experiencing a shortage of bilingual lawyers with capabilities for cross-border deals. Our firm has actively recruited both lawyers and staff with significant multilingual skills.

Training and development to become global players

So we began a "training course" for lawyers at the start of 2009. Aiming to bring our lawyers’ skills and professional attitudes in line with those of the international legal community, the course includes:

--Etiquette in Business Negotiations: Cross-border cultural skills will enhance our lawyers’ sensibilities to cultures in other parts of the world--and facilitate business relations with overseas clients and firms.

--Cultural Diversity: This is a relatively new concept for Latin American law firms, but one which we expect will be of vital importance going forward.

--English Language Fluency: As suggested above, fluency in English will continue to be a priority for Latin American law firms--to increase their access to overseas clients, and enable them to participate in global markets.

We are also working with our employees with three overall professional development goals in mind.

First, we want each employee to become aware of and focus on his or her unique role within the firm. Second, we encourage our employees to view their work product and delivery of services critically. And third, we expect our employees to continuously improve not only their substantive legal skills but also their client service skills.

This "team" approach is relatively new to many Latin American firms--and we believe it will both encourage positive attitudes amongst employees, and significantly enhance their day-to-day dealings with clients.

A new concept in employee salaries

The salaries which we pay to our employees are an important acknowledgment of their efforts to help the firm achieve its business objectives; and we ‘pay’ this salary in three ways:

1. The ‘economic salary’ is, of course, money; it fulfills our employees’ physical needs--for food, a home, clothes, etc.

2. The ‘psychological salary’ fulfills our employees’ desire for recognition and appreciation. Competition for excellent lawyers is as fierce in Latin America as anywhere in the world. One simple way we promote "good feeling" at our firm about the lawyers’ professional life--and encourage loyalty to the firm as well--is to regularly highlight and praise their successes and useful contributions.

3. The 'spiritual salary’ we 'pay' gives employees a sense that their work is meaningful and worthwhile. Pro bono work contributes to this, as will similar schemes which we plan to implement this year.

Part II, later this week: "How Do We Implement These Fundamental Changes in Mexico?"


Posted by JD Hull at March 24, 2009 11:59 PM


Rivadeneyra and Trevino have provided us with great service in the past in international contractual matters to opinion letters among others, all in expedited and quality fashion. Truly a first class law firm.

Posted by: John Friedhoff at March 25, 2009 07:28 AM

Hi, John--and we'll second that. First-rate people who get it right.

Posted by: Dan Hull at March 25, 2009 08:19 AM

Very interesting article, I agreed that lawyers have to change the way they do business it is important to have some culture of marketing to sell your services.I am glad that your firm is doing this work these is the way. congratulations.

Very sincerely yours,

René De Sola Quintero

Posted by: Rene De Sola Quintero at March 25, 2009 04:57 PM

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