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Brazil’s turbulent political and economic climate has kept it in the international spotlight in recent years. With the Lava Jato investigation in full swing, 2016 saw the impeachment of former President Rousseff, the culmination of a major power struggle which had engulfed South America’s largest country. Though market commentators noted the return of some stability following the impeachment, revelations in 2017 also implicated replacement President Temer in corruption scandals.

With the economy in continuing decline, the level of bankruptcy filings reached a record high by early 2017. Among the high-profile names filing for bankruptcy protection was the country’s largest telecoms company Oi, with a staggering R$65bn in debt. Though market instability led to some corporate transactions falling through, the M&A market remained reasonably active, with many law firms reporting a busy year in 2016 for transactions. In light of the corruption scandal gripping the nation, compliance took on heightened importance in due diligence investigations.

Law firms have responded to the increased demand for anti-corruption, compliance and crisis management by establishing or bolstering standalone practices. Investment in this field is paying dividends, with compliance departments at firms such as TozziniFreire Advogados, Azevedo Sette Advogados and Siqueira Castro – Advogados seeing steady work flows.

Disputes are also soaring due to the economic downturn, with the legal market seeing a particularly high number of partner promotions in this practice area. With arbitrations in high demand, we have established a separate ranking for this area, with Ferro, Castro Neves, Daltro & Gomide Advogados, Pinheiro Neto Advogados, Sergio Bermudes Advogados and Wald, Antunes, Vita, Longo e Associados Advogados leading the list.

In the capital markets arena, the government has opened the market to equity deals, also triggering a demand for securitisations. Tax-exempt securities, particularly asset-backed agribusiness and real estate securitisations as well as project bonds, have been in high demand recently.

Brazil’s tax system is notorious for its complexity, meaning that tax lawyers can rely on a steady influx of work regardless of the economic or political environment. Of particular note in 2016 was the announcement of a tax amnesty programme – under the Special Tax Regime and Foreign Currency Market Regulation – offering the opportunity to regularise undeclared offshore assets. The move, which aimed to bring in much-needed revenue for the government, led to law firms seeing a major uptick in instructions from new clients.

Equally renowned for its notoriety is Brazil’s labour law system, which stands out for strong labour unions and employee-friendly court decisions.

Meanwhile, the real estate market has continued to deflate. Property developers have taken major hits, leaving real estate developments few and far between. Law firms have busied themselves with property regularisation, for which there is significant demand. Offering a glimmer of hope on an otherwise featureless landscape are proposed changes to the restrictions on foreign ownership of rural land; foreign investors have been keeping a close watch on changes to the law, which might stimulate growth.

Regulations set up by the Brazilian Bar Association inhibit close cooperation between domestic and foreign law firms in the country. International associations do exist, however; Trench Rossi Wanatabe and Tauil & Chequer Advogados in association with Mayer Brown are active in the market, leveraging their international networks in cross-border deals. Campos Mello Advogados cooperates with DLA Piper, which is using the economic climate to expand significantly, adding laterals in areas such as insurance, labour, insolvency, white-collar, environment, and oil and gas. In a significant move, Vella Pugliese Buosi e Guidoni Advogados announced a strategic alliance with global firm Dentons in 2017.

Among the country’s most successful home-grown firms are BMA – Barbosa, Müssnich, Aragão, Machado Meyer Sendacz e Opice Advogados, Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados, Pinheiro Neto Advogados, TozziniFreire Advogados and Veirano Advogados.

In a competitive and saturated market, spin-offs and partner moves are commonplace. In 2016, Schmidt, Valois, Miranda, Ferreira & Agel split from L.O. Baptista Advogados, with which it had merged five years previously. In the insurance sector, TAVARES Advogados broke away from Sergio Bermudes Advogados, and the environment sector saw Lobo & Ibeas’ team leave to establish Graça Couto Advogados. Boutique firms add an important dimension to the market, and are particularly prominent in the areas of IP, antitrust, tax and public law. Our public law ranking saw a significant new addition in the form of advocacy and government relations boutique MJ Alves & Burle Advogados e Consultores. Tapping into growing demand in the market, the Brasília-based firm was established by former Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados lawyers Marcos Joaquim Gonçalves Alves and Fernanda Burle. The establishment of a government relations practice at Levy & Salomão also marks the beginning of a potentially lucrative endeavour.

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