Green Guide - EMEA: Abreu Advogados

A Portuguese full-service firm, Abreu Advogados brings a multidisciplinary approach to its long-standing commitment to ESG with its integrated ESG service co-led by Pedro Pais de Almeida, Alexandra Courela and José Eduardo Martins. A B Corp and member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the firm joined the Climate Ambition Accelerator programme as part of the UN Global Compact to support its ambition to achieve net zero and has signed onto Business Ambition for 1.5°C. Pais de Almeida, a former president and board member of CAIS – Associação de Solidariedade Social, heads the firm’s sustainability committee which releases regular GRI-compliant sustainability reports, something the firm has been doing since 2009. As part of the firm’s sustainability strategy, as overseen by Courela, joint tax practice coordinator and partner responsible for the pro bono programme, the firm’s Knowledge Institute hosts a Sustainability School which provides ESG training to law students. Martins co-heads the public and environmental practice and is well versed in issues concerning Lusophone Africa. He has advised on a variety of renewable energy projects including solar, hydroelectric and offshore wind, as well as on the creation of new package waste management systems by Novo Verde. Another notable matter is the firm’s advice to Efrican Foundation on the development of a roadmap for carbonic sustainability in Príncipe Island. 

Alexandra Courela

Alexandra Courela is a Partner whose practice focuses on Tax, Corporate and M&A. She advises on a wide range of Portugal and international tax and corporate matters related to the financing, acquisitions and restructuring of national and multinational groups, advising on both legal and financial. Alexandra primarily concentrates on consultancy for several national and international companies regarding tax advice in Portugal in areas as diverse as stock options, transfer prices, the implementation or revision of treasury centres, tax benefits or application of double taxation treaties.

She has extensive experience in providing legal assistance to private clients in the context of tax planning associated with their move to Portugal as residents and in the management and/or restructuring of their asset holding structures (with a special focus on Trusts and Foundations).

Her experience also covers digital tax matters, specifically in the areas of online gambling tax and crypto-currencies tax advice in Portugal. Additionally, she has experience in corporate restructuring (acquired during her time at Baker & McKenzie, in London) and in the finance area (during the period she spent at the English law firm Wragge & Co). Alexandra Courela is the Partner responsible for the pro bono programme at Abreu Advogados as well co-coordinator of the ESG Service.

José Eduardo Martins

José Eduardo Martins is a Partner and has been at Abreu Advogados since 2005 working primarily in the areas of Environmental, Commercial, and Real Estate Law and is one of the most vastly experienced Portuguese lawyers in the areas of environment, energy and natural resources. He is the Partner responsible for the Environmental Law practice area and the Angola and Cape Verde Desks, but he works with all Portuguese Speaking jurisdictions on matters related to the production of electricity, carbon license generation and transactions, environmental asset accounting, water and waste management. José Eduardo also has extensive experience in the public sector, having been Secretary of State for the Environment in the XV Portuguese Constitutional Government, from 2002 – 2004, and a Member of the Portuguese Parliament from 1999 to 2012. In 2021, José Eduardo was appointed President of the Environment and Energy Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce Portugal (ICC Portugal).

Pedro Pais de Almeida

Pedro Pais de Almeida is a Partner and has been at Abreu Advogados since 2008, working primarily in the areas of tax law, corporate, mergers and acquisitions and financial law.

He is the Coordinating Partner of the Spanish Desks and is head of Abreu Advogados’ Sustainability Committee. He has experience in tax arbitration proceedings and is a referenced arbitrator at CAAD – Administrative Arbitration Centre. He also has extensive international experience and has held several positions in international lawyers’ organizations, including, a UIA’s Presidency (November 2017 – November 2018), Chairman of the Advisory Board of Consulegis (2013-2015), being also member of the Executive Committee of the International Section of the New York State Bar Association. His work in sustainability is reflected in the responsibilities he has taken. Internally, as Head of Abreu Advogado’s Sustainability Committee. Externally, in positions he has held on the board of CAIS – Associação de Solidariedade Social (Non-profit organization for the protection of Homeless People) and as its President, and at IES – Social Business School and at IPAV – Instituto Padre António Vieira.

Abreu is proud to have been selected in the first Legal 500 Green Guide and hopes to be a positive source of information on best practices on implementing a necessary and urgent ESG agenda. With the purpose of responding to the growing expectations of the market for the development and implementation of the whole spectrum of legal and commercial issues related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), Abreu ESG service was developed to respond in an assertive manner to the path that organizations will inevitably have to follow in order to keep up with the rapid transition of the economy that is taking place in Europe, which brings different challenges, especially for climate and environmental issues, areas in which the legislation has been undergoing constant adaptations and revisions that put major pressure on public and private organizations to monitor and implement the new European and national measures. Recently we have seen significant changes that have had an impact on the market, particularly in the financial markets, where sustainable investments and the integration of ESG criteria into corporate strategy have become priority criteria for assessing organizational quality and competitiveness.

Has your firm established a dedicated ESG/climate change/sustainability practice, team or task force?

Abreu Advogados recently announced a new integrated service with the purpose of responding to the growing expectations of the market for the development and implementation of the whole spectrum of legal and commercial issues related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). Combining an extensive experience in monitoring sustainability issues and in response to the growing need of the market to tackle today’s global challenges, the firm’s latest service is led by three partners for the three core areas of the ESG proposal, José Eduardo Martins (Environment), Pedro Pais de Almeida (Social), and Alexandra Courela (Governance). A multidisciplinary team that includes lawyers and of counsel with experience in sustainable finance, M&A, labor law, environmental law, litigation, and EU law, among many other areas. With an extensive and historical experience in this area, Abreu Advogados has accompanied some of the main national projects in providing advice in areas such as corporate management, crisis management, social responsibility and sustainability, diversity and inclusion, ethics and compliance.

What type of work do you handle in connection with “green change”?

The law firm has been a pioneer in these areas since its foundation, 1993, whether in its own management or in advising clients, and now intends to provide its clients and partners with its expertise on issues related to environmental, social responsibility and governance challenges. Just as it is necessary for successful business to follow world politics and the economic agenda, the question is no longer why but when your company will be compliant. Investors and stakeholders expect your company to follow good Environmental, Social and Governance practices if they are to risk investing in it. Abreu´s work is based in three different pillars: Strategy and Risk Management (Governance and Risk; Litigation), Risk analysis and reporting (Due Diligence and Reporting) and Sustainable Finance (Governance and risk; Products and markets). Abreu has long believed that ESG is of urgent priority to irrefutable opportunity.

 Would you like to highlight a particular area of strength?

Ahead of its time, Abreu strengthened its energy and natural resources team which became an asset for our clients that have radically and recently started shifting their operations and strategy towards a green energy and sustainable reality, with the understanding that cross areas assistance is essential, such as real estate. In this context, the challenge has been to merge our technical skills into our strategic sectors and industries that were under financial stress and reexamining growth outside its core business. An example of this is the assistance provided by Abreu on legal due diligences to assess new investment risks, particularly for the implementation of “real estate energy projects”. This is the moment for organizations that have not yet done so to understand that change is underway and will hardly see a reversal of direction. New development strategies, such as the one embodied at European level by the “Green Deal”, imply new challenges and organizations will have to be able to adapt and undertake the necessary structural transformations in order to successfully face them.

Has your firm implemented any internal best practices?

At Abreu Advogados, we believe that a good relationship between our Employees and a good work environment contribute decisively to your success. Our values ​​are materialized in daily activity, which reflects compliance with the rules of conduct set out here. Our conduct is governed by applicable legislation and our behavior by ethics, the economic, social and environmental sustainability, with the objective of excellence. The Code of Conduct aims to affirm and make known the values ​​of Abreu Advogados to each of its Employees and other Stakeholders through the definition of a set of rules that conform and value our conduct. Abreu Advogados believes that it must contribute to the construction of a generalized culture of dissemination and promotion of social responsibility values, so that it is possible to create a firm based on sustainable development, accounting for its performance – economic, social and environmental. – through the publication of periodic Sustainability Reports. When fully implementing the “ESG from A to Z” core values and honoring its commitment towards environment, the firm obtained a carbon neutrality certification for its website by joining the global initiative “CO2 Neutral Website” and has become the first law firm in Portugal to have a carbon neutral website. This certification guarantees that all carbon emissions caused by the website’s operations and running are subsequently financially compensated by Abreu Advogados, with this investment being allocated to sustainability projects supported by the “CO2 Neutral Website” worldwide. These initiatives are required and enforced through our Management Quality Systema. Abreu intends to be a reference in the global law market and assumes as a strategic priority the continuous improvement of the effectiveness of its Quality Management System (QMS), which meets the requirements of ISO 9001. As top management, the Abreu Advogados’ partners are committed to disclose, comply and enforce the statutory and ethical regulations applicable to the Firm’s activity.

Has your firm joined any external ESG-related projects, networks or initiatives?

We are part of different national and international initiatives, such as the Climate Ambition Accelerator programme of the United Nations Global Compact, which aims to help companies fight climate change more efficiently by providing scientific support with the objective of achieving zero net emissions. Abreu is also the first and as of today the only law firm to join the programme. Since our foundation, the environment has been one of our priorities, assuming our role in society as a pioneering model for a much needed change of perspective.

We are still the only Portuguese law firm in the global B CORP movement, and we were the first law firm to periodically disclose a report with data such as our carbon footprint and some of the main indicators, thus seeking to strengthen our commitment to society. We are also proud of having developed the following partnerships and initiatives:

Abreu’s Knowledge Institute and NOVA School of Law signed a cooperation protocol in the Sustainability area, which creates the “Abreu Chair in ESG Impact” and establishes a partnership in the scope of NOVA Green Lab. The Abreu Chair in ESG Impact is an innovative chair, dedicated to environmental, social and governance dimensions, and will contribute to the specialized training of law students in one of the most important areas for the future of organizations.

Abreu Advogados has obtained a carbon neutrality certification for its website by joining the global initiative “CO2 Neutral Website” and has become the first law firm in Portugal to have a carbon neutral website. This certification guarantees that all carbon emissions caused by the website’s operations and runnning are subsequently financially compensated by Abreu Advogados, with this investment being allocated to sustainability projects supported by the “CO2 Neutral Website” worldwide.

Abreu Advogados is one of more than 80 Portuguese companies that signed the manifesto “Towards COP26”, promoted by the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) Portugal, which lists 11 goals to stop climate change, highlighting the central role of the business sector in this fight. Signing this manifesto “reinforces our commitment and daily effort to make a positive impact on society, in particular ensuring environmental sustainability.

Abreu Advogados recently organized the Abreu Sustainability School aimed at promoting the discussion and technical training on the subject of sustainability among students in the final years of law school. This edition was dedicated to ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance – and provided dozens of hours of training, debates, conferences and networking moments with key speakers from the sustainability and legal sectors.

 What are your firm’s ESG-related goals?

Abreu is set to help bringing innovation and competitiveness to its clients through an integrated ESG vision. Organizations will have to be able to adapt and undertake the necessary structural transformations in order to successfully face today´s “zero-carbon” challenges. Any company that intends to continue to be innovative and competitive in an increasingly global market will have to do this reflection and move from it to action as soon as possible. Despite the growing concern of the younger generations with climate change, there is a risk of being left halfway across this transformation process based on the decarbonization of economies; oscillating between unrealistic demands from political power and the temptation of “ecological whitening” on the part of companies, on the one hand, and accentuating generational and geographic divides, on the other.

Is your firm involved in any relevant pro bono work?

Abreu Advogados has an active sense of social responsibility, seeking to contribute for the improvement of the Community in which it operates, namely through the provision of pro bono legal services in favor of the Community in general in a situation of insufficiency economy and the promotion of legal literacy. In 2021, Abreu has dedicated over 2400 hours on pro bono matters and is currently supporting the following projects:

a) Academia dos Champs is a project of social inclusion aimed at children and young people between 5 and 18 years old, founded in 2009.

b) CAIS is a key project focused on social inclusion, offering the marginalised homeless population a means of social re-inclusion through work: the CAIS magazine.

c) Crescer a estuDAR is a youth association that has as its objective to promote education and schooling of deprived youths in countries with Portuguese as an official language, in particular, through receiving donations, collections and delivery of school equipment, aiming to contribute to the improvement of learning conditions.

d) IES – Instituto de Empreendedorismo Social – is a school focused on social innovation that aims to inspire and train agents of change, solving social problems via innovative and sustainable solutions.

e) Abreu has assisted the project developed in partnership with the blog “Dislexia Day by Day“, which has been contributing to an inclusive education for dyslexic children at school. This is reflection of the pioneering work Abreu has developed in the field of sustainability and, within this field, mental health. Thus project was shortlisted by the FT Innovative Lawyers Europe 2021 in the category “Social justice and the Rule of Law”.

Is your firm involved in any public outreach or client education?

Abreu Advogados has recently been involved in supporting cultural professionals in promoting their rights in the draft law discussed in 2021. As part of the public consultation of the Statute of Culture Professionals and with the support of Abreu Advogados, several Portuguese artists are promoting the #DarVozACultura movement with the aim of gathering as many contributions as possible to improve the document presented by the Government. Through its team specialized in the Art and Entertainment sector, Abreu Advogados is at the origin of this movement and, on a pro bono basis, supports cultural professionals in promoting their rights in the bill discussed in 2021. Also in 2021, Abreu Advogados presented the Mental Health Legal Literacy Manual, with the theme “Protection of people with mental illness: asset management – ​​the regime of the accompanied adult”. As part of the external initiatives that the Law Firm is developing within the scope of its Legal UP Program, this year dedicated to mental health. Legal Up is the program defined for the sustainability area of ​​Abreu Advogados, for which a specific theme is defined every year, with the aim of promoting initiatives and the debate of structural causes for the sustainable development of society.

Have there been any recent non-confidential stand-out matters that were particularly innovative, pioneering or complex?

The efforts and initiatives adopted by Abreu within ESG matters have been recognized internationally. One of the most important international awards for innovation in the legal sector, the FT Innovative Lawyers Europe 2021, has nominated Abreu Advogados in the category of “Social justice and the Rule of Law” for its project developed in partnership with the blog “Dislexia Day by Day“, which has been contributing to an inclusive education for dyslexic children at school. This is a very important international recognition of Abreu Advogados’ brand and of our pioneering work in the field of sustainability and, within this field, mental health. Innovation is part of Abreu Advogados’ DNA since our foundation and we challenge ourselves daily to create differentiated solutions that create an impact with our clients and, more broadly, with civil society. That’s what we did with this partnership with the blog Dislexia Day by Day which over the past year has played a key role in promoting legal literacy and building a more inclusive education for dyslexic children.

What has driven your firm’s involvement in a green transition? (Client demand? Business case? Personal attitudes/beliefs/initiatives?)

The ESG service at Abreu Advogados is a response to the current and future challenges faced by clients and partners in a fast-paced global context that calls for the review of business models based upon sustainability. Business decision making is inevitable and it’s increasingly clear that a service of excellence may become irrelevant if it is not accompanied by an active concern of the organization with environmental issues and the social impact of management policies. Also, the priority given to climate transition by the European Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, and included in the national PRR, as well as the Report of the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change, are clear signs of the path that will have to be followed by the productive fabric, based on promoting of more sustainable business models, operations and supply chains and of another interaction with the stakeholders in its activity (workers, consumers and civil society) that is not limited to the universe of holders of shareholdings. Since 1993 that Abreu is committed to fully implement a “zero-carbon” vision throughout its actions whilst becoming the right-hand partner for its clients future projects.

Do you have any strategic plans to expand your work or your initiatives in this area in the future?

The world rapidly demands new standards and an integrated ESG vision, also focused in all internal management decisions. And this is where Abreu Advogados separates itself from its competitors: our ESG vision looks at the world from a different perspective. We are focused on changes that allow us not only to meet our clients’ needs, but also to have a purpose. This is our mission, and we place our professionals at the center of any decision.

Simultaneously, Abreu’s best practices in ESG will continue to assist investors to incorporate environmental, social, and governance criteria with a practical purpose and ethical concerns. As an ESG-minded law firm, our goal is to align our clients practices with ESG factors that can have a positive impact on a company’s competitive positioning in the global economy. Through our daily assistance, Abreu works towards this reality whilst adopting a cross area approach, strategic vision and being fully committed to create long-term added value. In particular, we will see a shift in the finance sector towards the integration of ESG risk in the system of governance and internal control of banks, investment businesses and issuers of securities and other entities of public interest designated as such by the legal framework of supervision and auditing. This is our mission, and we place our professionals at the center of any decision.

Where do you see the future of ESG/sustainability in the legal community (both in terms of legal offerings and firms’ best practices)?

ESG remains a top concern for corporate law departments, and a pillar of the new corporate strategy. Nearly all the global law firms now have ESG or sustainability practices and the past year has seen unprecedented activity. Today’s lawyers are currently assisting clients in need of building ESG clauses into their contracts so that they can do business in today´s markets. According to the  recently published Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)’s 2021 Chief Legal Officer Survey, 15 percent of GCs predict that the biggest legal challenge to their company this year will be directly related to climate change. Abreu is deeply aware of this and helps recognizing the short- and long-term implications of ESG on its clients organizations and help prepare accordingly.