fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Nelson Raposo Bernardo  

Interview with… Nelson Raposo Bernardo  

The Portuguese legal market has recently witnessed considerable movement at the partner level. Are these the first signs of a generational shift and modernisation within the legal profession?

They are important signs that reveal that the Portuguese market has coming of age and some sophistication. In most cases, the partners have moved to other well-established law firms and have not given rise to new law firms. These movements have to be considered normal and the trend is for them to become more and more frequent. This is typical of a sophisticated and mature market. But this also does not mean that a generational change is not taking place. This change has been taking place over the past few years and has been especially visible in firms whose partner structure was older. I believe that it will intensify much more in the coming years.

Could the current crisis lead to further consolidation of the legal market in the form of integration/ mergers of law firms?

The crisis may affect some firms but I do not believe it will affect the largest and most representative ones and that the crisis will be the cause of a concentration movement of firms.

The concentration of firms may occur for other causes, among which the foreseeable approval of the multidisciplinary firms regime, which allows the integration of law firms with other professional areas. This openness may make our legal market more attractive, with professionals from other areas joining law firms. And if this happens there will certainly be a growth in structures, which in turn will lead to concentration movements of law firms. If the multidisciplinary law firms are approved, I admit that in the period of 3 to 5 years there may be major changes in the Portuguese legal landscape. The biggest ones will become even bigger. The small ones will focus on specialisation in certain areas or services.

How have you maintained and fostered relationships with existing and new clients in the absence of physical meetings during the pandemic?

The digital meetings and contacts have replaced the physical meetings in a very effective way. On our side we felt no impact. With our international clients, distance meetings were already a standard. With local clients, this new contact model even served to create a different proximity. We began to digitally enter into their intimacy space and met some clients from another perspective but equally close and sometimes even more personal.

How do local firms compete with those with an international or Iberian law firm affiliation?

Iberian offices or those with international affiliations have been in Portugal for many years, the most representative for over 10 or 15 years. This reality is already absorbed by local firms, the market in general and by clients. There is no special situation in relation to these offices that does not exist with the others.

Has Covid-19 been the catalyst for technological changes and innovation at law firms in Portugal?

It certainly has. At least it has been a catalyst for innovation, a stress test for procedures, a test for the versatility of internal practices and especially a time to reaffirm the culture of law firms. Firms that have a strong and cohesive culture are better off, those that were not so strong in terms of internal culture may be suffering. In technological terms, this is where I have felt fewer changes or difficulties, since the most representative firms in the market had long ago invested in technology, which enabled them to face this challenge of distance without much difficulty.

Tourism and exports (great economic drivers in Portugal) have been some of the worst affected sectors during the pandemic. Has the pandemic resulted in a reallocation of the country’s economic drivers?

These two sectors are indeed fundamental and have been greatly affected. Although there are other sectors of some importance, such as real estate and construction, neither of them can replace these two. Let us hope that already in 2021, or at least in 2022, we can count again on a strong dynamism of exports and tourism. I believe that the recovery, when it starts, will be strong and consistent.

Since becoming managing partner, what’s surprised you most about running a firm?

The talent of people. People’s ability to develop in intellectual and professional terms is extraordinary. In a firm with an environment that values merit, that allows lawyers to develop and progress, people’s talent is what stimulates me the most, motivates me and surprises me every day. I love to be surprised by the talent of the people in our team, every day this reinforces my admiration for them.

How has your role/involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partner?

It hasn’t changed much because I have the support of a very professional management team, who have great autonomy for the management of the firm, in which I fully trust, and therefore allows me to continue to maintain the relationship with our clients almost in the same way. The time available today is not exactly the same but has not changed as much as I initially feared.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise in the ranks?

Never give up on their dreams. If they are in a fair and meritorious environment, never give up trying to achieve their goals. Always do so ethically and in a spirit of collaboration, but never give up. Sometimes I notice some lawyers worried about a certain area having a lot of lawyers and the idea that growth and advancement can be more difficult in that area. This may be partly the case but it will be especially for those who are discouraged and give up. Those who continue to work with dedication and seriously, in collaboration with their teams, will surely see the result of their effort.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you? And, is D&I difficult in your jurisdiction?

They mean the present and the future and should always have meant the past. We should not have to impose rules and work to make diversity and inclusion for all to be a reality. This reality should always exist as something natural. In Portugal, diversity and inclusion are as difficult as in any other country. In fact, from what I know, Portugal does not even belong to the group of European Union countries where diversity and inclusion face more difficulties to impose in a definitive and natural way.

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capacity?

I do what I like most, being a lawyer is my vocation and what I have always aspired to do. As they say, those who work with passion and in what they like most end up never working, what they do is something different. This is my greatest professional achievement: to do what I like and how I like it.

1991 – Beginning of lecturer activity in the law degree at the University of Lisbon Law School (began lecturing to the second grade while he was still attending the fourth grade of the law degree, which is a course of 5 years) 

1993 – Completion of the law degreeContinuation of the lecturer activity for over two decades in Commercial and Corporate, Civil Law and Real Estate  

1995 – Left PLMJ Law Firm and sets up a legal practice in Lisbon, founder of Raposo Bernardo & Associados Law Firm  

1997 – Master by University of Lisbon Law School with the thesis Aquisição do Domínio Total nas Sociedades Comerciais” (The  acquisition of total control of Companies) 

1998 – Member of the Commission appointed by the Minister of Finance which has drawn up the Securities Code still in force.  

2000 – Labour Law Institute – University of Lisbon Law School – Founder with other University Professors and Lecturers  

2000-2020 – Leading Lawyer, Top Tier1, Best Lawyer by the main international legal directories 

2007-2010 – Professor in Courses on Family Businesses – Indeg/Iscte  

2008-2014 – Professor in Post-Graduate Studies  Entrepreneurship, Start-up`s and Innovation – Indeg/Iscte 

2010 – 2020 – Participation in more than 30 Project Finance and Corporate Finance

2018 – 2020 – Participation in privatization operations in the aviation, airports, ports, energy and pharmaceutical industries

2020 – Celebration of more than 25 years of practice as lawyer 

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