Iberian Lawyer Summit
by Reena SenGupta

Iberian Lawyer Reena SenGupta21 Iberian Lawyer Summit

A gathering of 140 Spanish and Portuguese lawyers converged on the Pestana Hotel in Lisbon last week to discuss the future of legal services. A team from RSG Consulting supported the event with presentations on innovation and the Client’s Revolution report. Reena SenGupta also hosted a gala lunch, which recognised some of the outstanding Iberian performers from the last five years of the FT Innovation Report.

Iberian Lawyer Summit – ‘The Future is Here: Managing Legal Services in a Changing World’

Portugal and Spain are both characterised by their independent law firms. These are jurisdictions in which the Anglo-Saxon firms have made little headway over the past few years. With the political and economic instability now characterising these markets, many firms will prefer to keep their attentions focused to the East.

However, despite the financial malaise of large segments of the Iberian economies, the law firms are actually not doing too badly. In the first panel of the day, the managing partners of the top three Portuguese law firms insisted that they did not make redundancies during the crisis and that whilst they were not now experiencing the pre-crisis double digit growth, their businesses were still growing.  Even they were surprised at the buoyancy of the Portuguese firms who they felt were actually doing better than the Spanish ones.  In turn, Pedro Llorca for Spain said he was surprised that so few law firms had collapsed in the market.

Stephen Denyer, a partner at Allen & Overy and the only Anglo-Saxon lawyer on this panel questioned the managing partners and wondered whether the lack of redundancies was “simply disguised departures.” The Portuguese General Counsel on the panel backed this notion up by reporting that he had received more qualified lawyer CVs over the past three years than any time.

However, the Iberian managing partners countered that the issue was a cultural one. Iberian firms still retain the idea of a compact with the workforce that does not see it as disposable headcount.

The trend on which all delegates at the summit were united was the need to cut costs and develop a new approach to pricing. This theme was echoed throughout the day in various sessions. The recession’s impact on the Portuguese legal profession was largely seen in these terms and most lawyers noted that clients had become more demanding. In addition, although Richard Susskind’s presentation on the impact of technology on lawyers was met with the usual scepticism, there was a sense that the recession would speed up the use of technology and knowledge management tools.

Legal process outsourcing was considered more outlandish with one Portuguese lawyer making the point that Portuguese firms “are already LPO!” Neville Eisenberg, the managing partner of BLP and keynote speaker at the conference, warned the delegates that even if Portugal was not ready for the winds of change blowing through other legal markets, the multi-national clients active in the jurisdiction would drive the use of alternative resourcing.