The international value challenge – Raposo Bernardo

If Iberian law firms are to ensure a quality of service for their clients as they expand internationally they must focus on building their own networks

The challenge for Iberian law firms, as for firms elsewhere, is to continue to offer their clients value added expertise as they expand internationally, and a quality of service comparable to that maintained in their home jurisdiction, says Nelson Raposo Bernardo, Managing Partner of Raposo Bernardo, which operates nine offices across Europe and Africa.

‘It only makes sense for law firms to accompany their clients abroad if they can guarantee the standards that secured them that client in the first place.’

Businesses legal needs abroad may often be greater than in their home jurisdiction, he suggests, and so will require more regular legal support as operations expand.

‘Clients need to trust their lawyers, we should be an indispensable business partner. But clients do not want mere translation, interpretation or explanation of the local law, they want lawyers who practise local law with local expertise, in close connection and with assistance from the other locations where the client has interests.’

Among the issues he highlights that businesses regularly face as they engage in new business abroad are those surrounding investment and market entry, state relations and implementation of local partnerships, licensing and public tenders, and inevitably tax and business development questions.

‘Keep in mind, all countries and regions have particular traits that may cause issues or difficulties to others,’ he says.

In Africa, specifically within the Portuguese-speaking countries the most common issue is to know which law to apply, he notes. Such confusion has its roots in countries colonial pasts, many of which have legislation heavily influenced by Portugal but which have also gone on to develop their own idiosyncratic legal frameworks.

‘Since independence new laws have been created but often without taking into account that which already existed and so was never revoked.’

Infrastructure difficulties, sociopolitical stability and the certainty and security of investments are all issues that regularly concern clients, he adds. ‘But, one must say, that across Africa matters have been improving substantially and such issues will not normally deter solid investment plans.’

By comparison in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania and Poland, where the firm opened last year, two main issues frequently arise, he says. ‘One is competition from neighbouring countries, especially Austria and Germany, with which they maintain long and deep rooted commercial relationships; the other is that they are rapidly becoming mature economies.’

The belief that much still needs to be done in these countries economies is no longer entirely true, says Raposo Bernardo. ‘Many opportunities remain, but for strong, financially wellstructured, companies with enough commercial breadth to make it amongst the fierce competition, and of course supported by good local legal expertise.’

The social and bureaucratic differences between countries, although still noted on occasion, are being smoothed over as they strengthen their European identities, he believes.

New challenges are however being presented to, and by, clients more generally as a result of the current economic downturn, he says. ‘There is often one major challenge and while not new it has become more urgent: increasingly providing the best legal solution, as fast as possible, with the lowest possible cost. This has always been significant for us, but we now see the trend is becoming a general concern for legal practitioners and clients alike.’

The policy of his firm therefore is to provide advice through its own established network of offices. ‘This is the only way we can actually guarantee the legal assistance our clients are expecting – and provide them with the necessary added value.’

Client satisfaction, wherever they do business, can only be achieved through law firms own local offices, believes Raposo Bernardo, as opposed to solutions such as partnerships, alliances or best friends.

‘Such solutions end up presenting issues, because the local partner does not maintain the quality standard expected, to the detriment of the client, or the local firm ends up smothering the work of the original firm.’