First Spanish firms going solo in Latin America

Garrigues decision to exit the Affinitas network has left the firm taking a bold new approach to the continent


Garrigues has made a dramatic change in its strategy in Latin America and opted to go it alone. Its Affinitas alliance, established in 2004 with firms from Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru, as well as a stand-alone association with Schmidt Valois Miranda Ferreira & Agel Advogados in Brazil has been abandoned as it attempts to become the first Spanish firm to go solo in the region. Sources say that Garrigues had a tough time as the network was not keen on getting closer and losing referral work from a wide group of firms. Also it did not receive many referrals from Latin America, with the majority heading the other way. The new strategy, however, according to Garrigues Corporate Partner Javier Ybáñez who is leading the LatAm push, is to practise local law, wherever regulations allow the firm to do so.
“In addition to our existing São Paulo foreign law office, we have already started operations in our Bogotá office. We hope to open in Lima after the summer and in Mexico City by year-end,” he says. “Spanish firms do not yet have their own stand-alone Latin American offices, so it is an exciting time for us, although other firms could follow suit.”
Garrigues’s strategic shift puts the spotlight on its main rivals, although neither appear set to follow in the short-term. Uría Menéndez maintains close relationships with a number of firms across the region, while Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira, which has distanced itself from its previous ‘pacto atlantico’ within Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Peru, has said it is not looking to open new offices locally but work together leading independent law firms.
The Affinitas alliance, meanwhile, will continue. The members are due to meet soon to discuss their strategy, including strengthening the alliance, increasing the existing bonds and potentially grow it in time with other member countries. Pablo Mijares Ortega, from Mexican member Mijares Angoitia Cortés y Fuentes, said that Affinitas has been approached by Spanish suitors, but they are keeping their options open.
An association with a Spanish firm is not a life changer, he says, because the country is seen as being in such bad shape. “All the major Spanish companies are already deeply invested in most LatAm jurisdictions, so it is not as if a significant flow of work is going to down your way if you become associated with a Spanish firm,” he says.
It is the international firms that are recently making a play, including Hogan Lovells in Mexico, for example. Whether this move by Garrigues will be successful, therefore remains to be seen, but either way it may set the precedent for other firms to follow, or avoid.