Getting to know Latin America

With UKTI among the organisations looking to facilitate UK businesses’ success in Latin America, it’s worth reflecting on what might be holding back law firms. Poor language skills? Arcane and protectionist professional rules?

It’s a question that came up at MD Communications’ recent roundtable discussion, which revolved around the findings of our White Paper Untapped potential – UK legal services and Latin America.

Assumptions around language and protectionist barriers are, it became obvious, quite wrong. In all but one of South America’s major economies, professional rules are not restrictive – the exception is Brazil, which is nevertheless the focus of most foreign law firm activity.

Instead the area where UK lawyers are behind their counterparts in the US is personal contacts. The sort of exchange programmes, secondments, seminars, study opportunities and social encounters that have underpinned closer links with China and India over the past two decades have quite simply not been there in any quantity when it comes to UK lawyers’ contact with Latin American countries.

It’s quite wrong to assume, more than one lawyer at the discussion noted, that most of Latin America wants to look naturally to north America – which for some is a very long way north.

But in commercial law firms, Latin American lawyers have often studied in the US, worked in US law firms, and the chance to meet their US peers socially. In Latin American business culture, the importance of that can’t been underestimated.

There is clearly plenty of interest in building those links – our roundtable, a fringe event at the American Bar Association conference, was packed. We struggled to accommodate all the UK and Latin American lawyers who wanted to attend, mingle and talk.

With two decades of ground to make up, for many UK lawyers, and their peers in Latin American jurisdictions, it’s high time they made a start. Encouragingly, the goodwill to make it happen is certainly there.

For more information on our LATAM project and White Paper, take a look here.

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