By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Finding a good lawyer in an unfamiliar country is a difficult task. In Brazil it is made all the more difficult by the proliferation of lawyers and law firms available. There are sixty law schools in the State of Rio de Janeiro alone, producing thousands of graduates each year, and a Google search for ‘lawyers in Rio’ brings up an overwhelming number of results. In order to select the right firm, the first thing to know is that in order to practice, lawyers must be licensed by the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, or OAB (the Brazilian Bar Association).
Michael Royster, an American lawyer and counsel to the firm Figueiredo & Silva, advises, “Always look for a Brazilian lawyer when you need legal assistance in Brazil … The Brazilian system is completely different from that in the US or the UK.”
Brazilian law prohibits foreign lawyers from practicing in Brazil without undergoing a time-consuming and rigorous licensing process which very few foreign lawyers are able to achieve.
Jonathan Kendall, from Rio Apartments Group in Copacabana adds: “The Brazilian lawyers are much better prepared to deal with and manage the issues unique to the business environment. But it is equally as critical to have a firm that has direct international experience so they can bridge the gap between the foreign and domestic business cultures and laws. To have one without the other is an invitation for disaster.”
When explaining what to look for, Royster says, “First, someone you feel confident will get the job done correctly and expeditiously. Second, someone who can explain what he/she is doing for you in language you can understand. Third, someone you can afford”.
Marcelo Valença, of Herrera & Valença Advogados, a law firm which specializes in advising foreigners on legal issues, says, “Look for lawyers who have graduated from one of the top law schools like UERJ (Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro – Rio’s State University), or PUC (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro). Also, lawyers who have international experience of working or living abroad are more likely to understand the needs of foreign clients”.
For big businesses with big budgets, finding a good lawyer in Rio isn’t hard. Usually their own lawyers in their home countries will refer them to one of the big name law firms like Veirano Advogados or Pinheiro Neto which offer a range of top-class legal services to high profile clients. But for smaller clients the challenge can be more difficult.
Jack Woodall, Chairman of the British and Commonwealth Society of Rio de Janeiro (BCS), and Editor of The Umbrella Magazine, suggests getting recommendations from other foreigners who have found good Brazilian lawyers, through societies such as AmSoc Rio (The American Society of Rio de Janeiro), BCS and InC (International Club Rio).
Herrera & Valença Advogados offers a solution, “We realized clients need law firms which can offer the same quality of service of the big name firms at competitive rates. Our strength is that we are a small firm but with an international outlook, so our senior lawyers can provide personalized attention to each one of our clients”, says Valença.
For businesses, bilateral chambers of commerce such as Amcham (the American Chamber of Commerce) and Britcham (the British Chamber of Commerce) can provide lists of registered law firms with foreign interests, and for immigration advice embassies and consulates can supply a list of contacts.