Abreu Advogados has been on a hiring spree in recent months as the firm seeks to build an institution that can be smoothly handed over to the next generation of lawyers – with other leading firms in Portugal facing issues with succession, Abreu managing partner Duarte de Athayde believes his firm is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition
by ben cook
Abreu Advogados has made some eye-catching lateral hires in recent months. One double swoop that grabbed the attention of the market was the recruitment of former PLMJ managing partner, and M&A specialist, Manuel Santos Vítor, who arrived with fellow PLMJ partner, and tax specialist, Nuno Cunha Barnabé. These were two of the most senior hires this year, but a significant number of other lawyers – most of them from PLMJ – have arrived at the firm in 2019 (see box). In what is a very competitive market, where firms are fiercely battling each other with regard to recruitment, it seems that Abreu Advogados currently has considerable pulling power.
So what does Abreu Advogados have that is currently proving attractive to lawyers? The firm’s managing partner Duarte de Athayde says the way in which the firm has taken steps to professionalise its internal organisational structure has been a key selling point. “We have clear internal rules that are easy to understand, this is an institution and we are in a good position, we don´t depend only on a founding partner,” he explains. It’s easy to see why this is appealing to potential recruits. Many law firms, including some prominent ones in Portugal, experience succession problems, with tales of firms failing to manage generational change effectively fairly common. Opaque internal structures can be frustrating for lawyers, especially those from the younger generation and for those trapped in such organisations, law firms that offer a clearly defined path to partnership and a recognisable career structure can be attractive.
CHANGE AT THE TOP?
What is Abreu’s strategy? De Athayde says the firm wants to be a leading fullservice firm in the Portuguese market. Indeed the objective is to be – along with Morais Leitão, Vieira de Almeida and PLMJ – one of the ´Big Four’ Portuguese firms. However, there are doubts as to whether those four firms will stay at the top of the tree in Portugal. While none of them appear to be in any imminent danger, De Athayde says that the group of elite independent Portuguese firms could be a “big two or big six”, however, regardless of what the future holds, Abreu’s goal is to be in the group of top “independent, full service firms”. He adds: “There could possibly be change at the top of the market, in the event of an economic downturn, some firms may have to reduce in size and may have succession issues.” In this scenario, De Athayde says that lawyers will be open to joining firms with different business models, like Abreu. “Many people reach out to us, we have the capacity to grow,” he explains. “We have a strong and clear leadership project and clear and transparent rules.” De Athayde acknowledges that law firms in the Portuguese market are facing, and will face, increasing competition from global law firms and consultancy firms. In order to meet this challenge head on, Abreu Advogados has gone through what De Athayde describes as a period of “internal consolidation”. This process included moving to a new Lisbon headquarters in the city’s Avenida Infante Dom Henrique two years ago. The new offices, which were built at a cost of €13 million, have a floorspace that is a massive 145 per cent bigger than their previous base. Energy efficiency is a key consideration in the building – the firm says that, in comparison to its previous offices, 160,000 kilowatt hours of energy are saved, which equates to approximately a €25,000 saving on annual energy bills. The evolution of the firm was taken a step further earlier this year, when it launched a new brand and logo. Speaking at the time, De Athayde said the new “visual identity reflects our attitude and our approach to the legal profession – more than a brand or a logo, this is about a culture of collaboration focused on building the future”. The idea of building for the future is currently one of the firm’s main preoccupations and goes some way to explaining the recent influx of new partners. “We want to improve the condition of the team and retain talent – our idea is to create a law firm that will survive the generations.”
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