Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ firms boost ranks to meet increased demand

New data shows that headcount was up at the major firms in the last year, and while the total number of lawyers was up only slightly, partner numbers grew more significantly

Headcount at Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ law firms – PLMJ, Vieira de Almeida (VdA)and MLGTS – increased significantly in the last year as they sought to meet significant demand for litigation, finance and real estate-related advice,  new data collated by Iberian Lawyer shows.
The 11 largest firms in Portugal now have a total of 1,646 lawyers, only marginally up on the 2015 figure of 1,641. However, though these numbers suggest that the prospects for aspiring lawyers that want to break into the legal profession are improving only very slightly, data on partner numbers indicate that, for those who do join a law firm, the chances of becoming a partner are improving. The figures show that the leading firms now have more partners – the 11 biggest firms currently have a total of 285 partners, up 6 per cent from the previous year’s total of 268.
PLMJ remains the largest firm by headcount with 292 lawyers, but VdA has continued its dramatic growth and has now overtaken Abreu Advogados to become the second-largest law firm in Portugal in terms of lawyer numbers. Of the major firms, VdA experienced the most significant growth in 2016 with headcount increasing 11 per cent to 233. The firm reports that its M&A, banking, real estate, litigation and oil and gas practices have been “stand-out” performers in the last year. Speaking earlier this year, managing partner João Vieira de Almeida also suggested that clients were becoming more inclined to shop around for legal services. “It is now much more transparent, a level playing field where firms compete for clients who put aside decades-old alignments to look for the quality and price that suits them better,” he said.
Portugal’s largest law firm PLMJ increased its headcount by 9 per cent in the last year. The firm has highlighted the finance, real estate and tourism sectors as being significant drivers of growth in the last year. The firm’s managing partner Luís Pais Antunes says: “The increase in the number of lawyers is part of our strategy to continue to position ourselves as the Portuguese firm with the greatest capacity of response, as well as being a response to market demand.” In the last year, PLMJ recruited Diogo Perestrelo from Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira. Other key market moves included Jorge Brito´s move from PLMJ to Uría Menéndez-Proença de Carvalho.

Foreign growth vital
Meanwhile, headcount at MLGTS went up 3 per cent in the last 12 months, meaning the firm now has 200 lawyers, making it the third-biggest law firm in Portugal by headcount. The firm’s managing partner Nuno Galvão Teles explains that much of MLGTS’ recent growth has been attributable to its international practice. “The domestic [Portuguese] market is not growing much, but in Africa and Macao, where we are a market leader through our network of local firms – called MLGTS Legal Circle – business is going very well,” Galvão Teles says (see Law firm profile, page 18).
The data also shows that Uría Menéndez has now assumed Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira’s position as the largest Spanish law firm in Portugal. Headcount at Uría Menéndez-Proença de Carvalho increased 8 per cent in the last year to 114, while the number of lawyers working for Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira in Portugal fell to 107, a decrease of 3 per cent. Explaining the growth at Uría Menéndez-Proença de Carvalho, managing partner Duarte Garin says: “The increase in the number of lawyers is the result of a steady increase in the volume of work in practically all areas of practice but more noticeably in litigation, M&A and tax.”
The firms reporting the biggest decreases in lawyer numbers were Miranda and Abreu Advogados. Headcount at Miranda stands at 139, down 22 per cent on last year’s figure, while Abreu Advogados has a total of 184 lawyers, a fall of 15 per cent on last year’s total. Miranda explained its drop in headcount by saying that the previous year’s figures had included lawyers working in its operations in Francophone Africa, but this year’s number did not.