Global firms following DLA Piper and opening in Portugal ‘not ruled out’

Opportunities in the areas of real estate, finance and venture capital could lead to other international law firms launching operations in Lisbon

Following DLA Piper’s decision to open in Portugal – as a result of a merger with local law firm ABBC – lawyers in Lisbon are refusing to rule out other global firms opening in the country, with real estate and venture capital seen as particularly lucrative areas of business.
DLA Piper decided to merge with ABBC having been closely affiliated with the firm since 2010. Prior to that, DLA Piper had a close association with another Lisbon-based law firm, Miranda. The firm will now trade in the Portuguese market as DLA Piper ABBC. Juan Picón, global co-chairman of DLA Piper, says that having had an established relationship with ABBC, it was a natural move to join forces to create a single, joined-up offering across the Iberian region. “We saw that the upturn in the Portuguese economy had resulted in more foreign investment, with many of ABBC’s Spanish clients in Spain interested in investing in Portugal,” he explains. “As a result of the close economic integration of Spain and Portugal, the Iberian legal market is increasingly being seen by our clients as a single market.”
Picon argues that, given the opportunities arising due to increased globalisation – particularly in relation to Latin America and Africa – it is very likely that other international firms could follow DLA Piper’s lead and open in Portugal. “Businesses need law firms that are ‘truly global’, so having a presence in the Iberian region is therefore important,” he says.
João Miranda de Sousa, managing partner of Garrigues in Lisbon, says the Portuguese market is attracting a variety of investors who are targeting a range of sectors including real estate and finance, as well as venture capital linked with start-ups. He adds that, given this context, it is “difficult to completely rule out the idea of other global firms opening offices in Portugal”. It is understood global firms are considering opening in Lisbon as a means of targeting Lusophone Africa. DLA Piper and Linklaters are currently the only two global firms in Portugal though Simmons & Simmons previously had a Lisbon office.

Too few deals?
However, Luis Pais Antunes, managing partner of PLMJ, argues that, considering global firms such as Linklaters have already been in the Portuguese market for a number of years, the arrival of DLA Piper is not particularly significant. “The most international Spanish law firms have also had a strong presence in Portugal, as well as other relevant international firms,” he says. Meanwhile, Pedro Guimarães, partner at FCB Sociedade de Advogados in Lisbon, says the level of profitability of legal work in Portugal is still a long way from what global firms expect, meaning that it is unlikely others will take the step of opening in the country. “There are just not enough significant transactions happening in Portugal, and other (smaller) transactional and advisory work tends to be paid at levels that global firms would not find appealing,” he adds.
In terms of the long-term impact of global firms such as DLA Piper opening in Portugal, Miranda de Sousa thinks they will “enrich the legal sector” through new ways of working and new business models. “It also represents a healthy incentive for competition,” he adds. Similarly, Guimarães hopes that DLA Piper’s expansion will open up the market to greater diversity and multiculturalism. “The country has been a marginal jurisdiction for too long and perhaps this opening of DLA Piper will contribute to making it more inclusive,” he says. However, Pais Antunes thinks that while competition is good, the arrival of new international firms to the Portuguese legal market will ultimately have little effect. “The top independent Portuguese law firms are very well equipped, have excellent lawyers, provide high-level services and are becoming more and more international,” he says.