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Legal market overview
Portugal remains in the throes of a deep financial crisis. Despite the €78bn bailout that the country received in 2011 from the troika group (comprising the IMF, the EC and the ECB), times remain very difficult for the country. As decreed by the Memorandum of Understanding, Portugal began a series of privatisation procedures, and this has generated a substantial flow of work for law firms, advising interested bidders. Firms involved included Linklaters LLP, Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva & Associados, PLMJ Law Firm, Serra Lopes, Cortes Martins & Associados and Vieira de Almeida & Associados, as well as the key Iberian firms. The long-term effect of these privatisations and the presence of new investors, particularly from China, remains to be seen, but Portugal’s economic identity has changed significantly. Forthcoming privatisations include those of the airline TAP, and airport management company ANA – Aeroportos de Portugal.
Several sectors have witnessed changes to the legal framework. Areas including competition, insolvency and employment saw new legislation and changes to legal codes. A new IP court, located in Santarém, was established in late 2011 and has received mixed reviews. Tax arbitration has seen more success since legislation was passed in 2011 allowing the practise. In project finance, the trend of restructuring and refinancing existing projects and concession deals continues; there remains a severe lack of investment and an unwillingness from both Portuguese and foreign banks to lend. The capital markets continue to struggle; while there have been some private placements and right issues, the equity market remains flat. Real estate deals, too, have all but stopped entirely.
Lusophone Africa, China and Brazil are of real importance to both Portuguese law firms and their clients. Sérvulo & Associados has made recent partnerships with firms in Angola, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and Miranda Correia Amendoeira & Associados opened an office in London to assist in serving its Africa-focused clients. However the trajectory of Portuguese firms is yet to be determined within such highly developed legal markets.