Barcelona-based Pintó Ruiz & Del Valle, like many law firms, had to reduce headcount when the crisis hit – however, the firm is now benefitting from an increase in sports work, while also growing some of its other, less well-known, practice areas
It comes as no major surprise that a sizeable proportion of the work done by Pintó Ruiz & Del Valle – a firm based in the football-mad city of Barcelona – is sport-related. “Our sport practice has represented FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in very famous cases and our clients include athletes, clubs, agents and sports organisations,” says the firm’s managing partner Jordi López. He does not reveal the details of the “famous cases”, but it is understood that the firm has represented major clubs in relation to matters involving world-renowned players being banned from the game for disciplinary reasons.
Indeed, sport-related legal advice – which accounts for around 20 per cent of the firm’s revenue – is a rapidly growing area of business for the firm. López says: “This practice is expanding significantly, sport is becoming increasingly regulated and more professional, so clubs need external help.” He adds: “There are not a lot of law firms working in sport, it [the practice] is growing every year, though at some point, the growth may stop.”
It could be that the rate of growth in the firm’s sport-related business will slow in future, but, as López is keen to point out, it is “not our main practice”. He adds: “Our firm is a multidisciplinary firm – though our sport practice is the one the media refer to the most – we, of course, litigate (all our lawyers are trained and ready to litigate), but we are also an M&A firm, and we also do tax, labour, bankruptcy, IP and public-law related work.” López also says the firm has clients in most industry sectors and is “particularly active in pharma, healthcare, food and beverage, textile, real estate and venture capital”. He adds that the firm does not publicly disclose its revenue figures. However, it is understood that its Barcelona office contributes around 75 per cent of the firm’s revenue. The firm also has offices in Madrid and Palma de Mallorca, as well as a small operation in Alicante. Though the firm’s Madrid office only contributes a relatively small proportion of the total billing, it is understood to be a particularly profitable business for the firm, with intellectual property being among its more notable practices.
López says that, while the firm’s aim is to grow a little – it currently has 40 lawyers, including 12 equity partners – it is also anxious, like all firms, to avoid repeating errors made in the past, specifically what he describes as “uncontrolled growth”. The firm had to reduce its number of lawyers as a result of the crisis, and it was an experience that the firm does not want to go through again. “Our work has significantly increased in the last two years, but we are being prudent with recruitment and with the size of our teams,” he says.
Pintó Ruiz & Del Valle is the result of the 1999 merger of Bufete Pintó Ruiz and Del Valle Abogados, which were founded in 1903 and 1910 respectively. The firm has gone through a number of transitional phases – though López is the firm’s managing partner, he says “the leadership of the firm is currently exercised by its president, who is José Juan Pintó Sala, who received this leadership position around 20 years ago from his father José Juan Pintó Ruiz, who is still working at the firm at the age of 90”. López became managing partner in January 2015, when he was appointed for an indefinite term. “In the first two years [of my time as managing partner], there were no significant alterations in the way the firm is managed, but we have started implementing small changes such as electronic documentation management,” López says.
Bringing clients in
As many managing partners will testify, it can be difficult to make changes in a law firm, particularly when older lawyers are affected. López is a relatively young law firm managing partner, being aged 40, but he views his youth as an advantage. “There’s not such a big gap with the younger lawyers, young people are different than before and have other interests and ambitions, and we have to adapt our structures and our way of working,” he says. “We teach the team how to work the cases, but also how to deal with clients, which is essential for us, and of course how to bring the clients in.”
López says the Barcelona legal market is becoming increasingly competitive. “It’s a small market in Barcelona, you get the same 20-25 firms on the big transactions and judicial proceedings,” he says. López adds: “People used to only want to work for big law firms, but people are not so afraid anymore of leaving a firm and joining a smaller one, or even starting a new project – people are now brave and these moves are often good for them and they are not regretting it.” He also says that firms are becoming increasingly specialised and that firms that only offer general legal services will “find it difficult to compete”.
Politics in Catalonia
The political uncertainty in Catalonia is having little impact on investors, López argues. “In spite of the instability in Catalonia, we do not see that the political situation is impacting on the investment decisions of our clients and it’s not seen as especially detrimental to investors,” he says. But López admits that the situation could potentially change. “If the situation gets worse, I don’t know how investors will react.”
There are currently good opportunities in the real estate market, López says. “Foreign investors are acquiring buildings – they’re speculating on offices and flats, buying, refurbishing, selling and renting,” he adds. “We are seeing investors from China, the Middle East and Israel, especially.”
Honesty the best policy
Business development and client retention are among the key tasks facing the firm. “Our concerns are keeping clients by providing excellent service, and finding new ones, as well as time management – we try to be as efficient as possible, clients increasingly ask us to be more creative with budgets and offer alternatives, including success fees in some cases,” he says. “However, some clients, especially multinational ones, still prefer the hourly-rate system.” López says the firm’s philosophy is to be always truthful with the client, even if it means missing out on fees. “We’re always honest with the client, we will tell them not to do something [if we think it’s not in their interests], even if it means we lose the billing.”
Barcelona is home to a significant number of start-ups and López acknowledges that sometimes the firm is willing to offer such businesses some help by “applying, in certain cases, a discount on fees at the initial stage”. However, the firm does not provide legal advice for free. López says: “If companies ask us to work for nothing, it’s a big risk: if it doesn’t work, it’s a disaster, we need to cover our costs.”
The firm is not considering a merger with another firm, but López does not rule it out. “We feel we have a good size, we have good professionals in many areas, we are not thinking of a merger, but we would explore it if we had an opportunity – in the past, we’ve had offers, but we don’t like to lose identity and control.”