Monday, 17 June 2019 16:03

Making the deal happen

María Luisa Vara, legal director at asset management business Azora talks to Iberian Lawyer about the challenges of setting up a ‘high performance’ legal department and the company's approach to selecting external lawyers

María Luisa Vara joined Azora ten years ago and was given the task of creating an in-house legal team – here she discusses what type of legal work the company outsources and how relationships with external lawyers work in practice.

How long have you been with Azora and how has your role changed during that time?

I joined Azora in 2009. I came from the renowned Uría Menéndez law firm, where I spent a large part of my career. In particular, I advise on fund raising, investment and disinvestment operations, asset management and project finance. I have more than 18 years of experience in corporate and real estate practice. When I joined Azora I had to set up the legal department, not only the processes but I also had to build a high-performance legal team from scratch. Building a legal department is not easy, but it is even more challenging consolidating and coordinating it, because the Azora legal team is about making the deal happen, unwinding legal complexity and adding significant value beyond controlling risk. This means there is a lot of pressure and it poses challenges for the team every day. It is easy to say, but not easy to achieve. In addition to coordinating the legal department, I am also responsible with my team for the in-house legal appraisal of projects as well as legal structuring and leading transactions. This includes the drafting, negotiation and closing of contractual documentation, which is my favourite part. In particular I am focus on fund raising, corporate transactions and the hospitality sector. When I joined Azora, I became a member of the executive, management and investment committee and, in 2018, I was appointed secretary of the board of directors at Azora.

Which legal work do you outsource?

We usually work together with external law firms as our ‘day to day’ consists of operations or cases where there is the need for specialist advice. We are usually involved in very sophisticated operations in which we need various specialists. Even if it results in a bigger workload for Azora’s in house legal team, we establish working groups with multi-disciplinary lawyers, even from different external law firms.

Do you have preferred law firms that you choose to work with?

We seek out and create excellent legal teams to handle transactions, with the decision based on individual lawyers rather than relying only on the law firm’s brand.

How do you select the law firms?

We take into account their technical and legal knowledge, their experience in past cases, creativity when seeking legal solutions to complex issues, as well as other skills, such as communications, negotiations, interaction with the counterpart and all other advisers and public bodies, for example. I like accuracy and rigorosity in drafting. Selection is not easy. In my opinion, to make the correct selection, the in-house lawyer requires seniority and a good knowledge of the specific legal sector in which they are involved, as well as a perfect understanding of the operation or case we aim to share with the external lawyer.

How often do you review the performance of external counsel and how does this review work?

I follow the performance of our external counsels on a day to day basis. My role does not consist of outsourcing a specific matter or case and limiting myself to coordinating it. In-house lawyers in Azora are on-board motors of business so, with necessary resources, either internal or external, we work directly on the day to day in each transaction or case. We make a transaction ‘our own’ in terms of generating business or managing legal risks. The legal work has a huge exposure, for good and bad. Thus the performance of the work (internal or external) is ‘on the table’ on a day to day basis.

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