Ferrere

2012, Latin Lawyer

Top tier full service firm with regional reach

Established: 1957

Partners: 10

Total lawyers: 100

Ferrere Abogados is Uruguay’s largest firm, and credited with being in the top tier at home and unique in its regional presence across some of Latin America’s smaller economies. The firm’s reputation for high-end transactions and disputes, matched by true strength in breadth, is well-established across Latin America and further afield.

As part of its continued drive for improvement the firm has embarked on new projects in the last year, incorporating an IP boutique and a new administrative team that is already paying dividends if the regular work the firm does for governmental bodies is anything to go by. It is also keen to position itself to take advantage of private equity investment in the country. Ferrere Abogados is increasing its focus on high-end work and working towards more cross-disciplinary teams too. Internally, institutional steps relating to mandatory retirement and financial performance have also been taken. The firm’s above-average number of female partners (representing 27 per cent of the partnership) is noteworthy.

PEOPLE & PRACTICES

Leadership is important at any firm, but it is particularly pertinent to Ferrere Abogados at present. The firm’s foundations were knocked in 2010 by the sudden death of Daniel Ferrere, the man responsible for turning the firm into the powerhouse it is today, and onlookers have watched to see how the firm adapts to his absence and loss of rainmaking abilities. Andrés Cerisola had already assumed leadership before Ferrere’s death, and he has now thrown himself into it, having let go of much of his leading arbitration practice. Cerisola’s approach maybe more low key, but he is determined nonetheless to maintain the firm’s strong image and has worked hard to send out a message of business as usual. Clients praise Cerisola’s leadership skills, as well as his “unrelenting good spirits, his involvement in every case and situation, his entrepreneurial demeanour, and his habit of promptly returning all phone calls; not a small feat for an in-demand professional.” The leader of the firm’s accounting arm, CPA Ferrere, has also taken a more prominent role in the direction of the firm overall of late and it remains to be seen how compatible their two views on the firm’s future are, and whether the responsibility can be shared.

Corporate and M&A

This has traditionally been a strong suit for this firm, led by the highly rated Martín Cerruti. A good example of their corporate portfolio includes work for insurers Alico and MetLife, which asked them for help merging their local operations after AIG’s US$16.2 billion global sale of Alico to MetLife. The insurance sector has been a good source of work of late; the team also helped Argentine insurer San Cristóbal enter the market.

The two other names in this area are Gonzalo Secco and Laura Ramón, with Andrés Cerisola lending his hand to some matters. Ramón helped Canadian engineering company KSH Solutions win a contract with Montes del Plata, the high profile US$1.9 billion pulp mill project, and the three regularly assist companies entering Uruguay. Cerisola and Secco brought GROUPON to the country, while Secco helped dairy equipment supplier DeLaval set up its local operations. Elsewhere Tribe Mobile retained Martín Colombo in the local leg of its regional partnership with Virgin Mobile and a team helped US-based investment fund JH Partners in its acquisition of duty free shops owned by Neutral – one of the largest operators of duty free shops in Uruguay. Isabel Laventure helped Uruguayan technology company Scanntech secure a US$10 million capital injection for from US investment fund Sequoia Capital.

Banking & finance

Diego Rodríguez is spearheading the firm’s push to boost its profile in banking deals with demonstrable success. He and Laura Ramón were selected by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and Finnvera, the Finnish government’s export credit agency, for legal advice on a US$1.35 billion credit facility for the Montes del Plata pulp mill – representing the largest financing deal in Uruguay’s history to date. France’s Crédit Agricole turned to Rodríguez for the sale of its Uruguayan units to Spanish bank BBVA – a rare deal in the country’s tightly regulated banking sector – and Sanofi-aventis hired him for a trust to administer funds for a computerized vaccination record system. His achievements are especially visible in his work for governmental bodies. Rodríguez provided counsel to the Ministry of Agriculture on a potential investment fund to buy and lease land to dairy producers, and the Central Bank of Uruguay hired him to restructure its regulation in financial entities, capital markets, insurance and pension funds.

Capital markets

Diego Rodríguez is the go-to name here too, helping clients such as Uruguay’s first forestry fund, Bosques del Uruguay, issue share certificates. He also advised Asociación Española, one of Uruguay’s largest health care providers, on a trust bond issuance. Laura Ramón provided local advice to Greek shipping company Navios in a US$200 million bond issuance in New York.

Arbitration

Ferrere Abogados has a leading reputation for disputes work. Andrés Cerisola is a prominent arbitrator and although he has relinquished much of this work to concentrate on leading the firm, by no means has he wiped his hands of it entirely. The “very giftedSandra González, meanwhile, has approached her new role as head of disputes with gusto. The team’s reputation is such that JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse and Dresdner Lateinamerika turned to them for advice in the aftermath of the 2002 collapse of Banco Comercial, once the country’s largest private bank and in which they were shareholders. First the team obtained an arbitration ruling that the government had failed to honour an obligation to buy up its shares, and it has since gone on to advise the banks in the 50-plus court claims worth a total of US$650 billion. Cerisola has done much to ensure that Ferrere Abogados is a first point of call for arbitration work and the team appears on major ICC arbitrations emanating from the country. The banks trying to extract themselves from the rollout from Banco Comercial’s collapse can thank Ferrere Abogados for two successful arbitrations against the Republic of Uruguay through which they were awarded US$170 million.

Litigation

In litigation, Cerisola, González and others have made considerable headway into drawing a line under the Banco Commercial saga in local courts. In 2011 they helped their clients reach an agreement with the Uruguayan government to settle their pending disputes over a failed capitalization plan, and lift an attachment order from a US$170 million credit they have against Uruguay which was blocking that agreement from being enacted. They also won a US$85 million tax case before the TCA, the country’s highest administrative tribunal, over their liability for the bank’s tax debts, and defeated a claim brought by a bondholder. There are other prominent examples of the firm’s success in this area. González and Laura Ramón helped the International Finance Corporation (IFC) win a case before a Uruguayan appeals court brought by two bondholders claiming they were misled into investing in bankrupt poultry processor Granja Moro, in which the IFC and the Inter-American Investment Corporation were shareholders. Cerisola also defended the country’s largest private university, ORT, in a case brought by a group of students who allege they developed serious health problems after twice failing their final exams. The decision dismissed the complaint brought by the students and upheld ORT’s right to determine its own educational standards. The team has also done a good job of ensuring their clients stay out of local courts. Julio Iribarne saw to it that a court blocked a construction company from suing real estate developer Diamantis Plaza in Uruguay and upheld an arbitration clause in a contract between the two companies; marking a move away from a tendency in Uruguayan courts to override the use of arbitral tribunals. Similarly, Gonzalo Secco assisted Kaskira, an Argentina-based investment group, in winning a court ruling that all future disputes with a casino in the country must be heard by an arbitral tribunal. Iribarne has had numerous successes elsewhere, from helping a sausage casing company settle a dispute with Montevideo’s municipal government to ensuring the family of a Uruguayan artist obtained a conviction for libel through the internet – an unprecedented case in the country. AAlberto Varela helped Uruguayan radio station Océano FM win a Supreme Court ruling stating that an additional ‘show tax’ levied on dance events is unconstitutional.

Tax

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its size and strength in breadth Ferrere Abogados has one of Uruguay’s largest tax teams, which is led by the very highly regarded Alberto Varela. He helped three banks clear themselves from liability for the tax debts of the now defunct Banco Comercial.

Labour

Verónica Raffo is a leading figure in labour law, having built up a recognized name during 15 years of practice. Though she handles litigation and collective negotiations, most of her time is dedicated to consulting; she assisted the International Labour Organisation in producing a report on policies regarding strikes and collective bargaining to help improve labour regulations in the country, for example. Senior counsel Nelson Larrañaga helped the same organization in a review of retirement and pensions underway in Uruguay.

Intellectual property

Agustín Mayer leads a strong IP team, fortified by the recent incorporation of boutique Mónica Bacot & Asociados, adding five lawyers to boost trademark, patent and copyright registration work. Mayer is also prominent in media and pharmaceuticals.

Administrative law

The firm boosted its profile in administrative law and regulatory matters with the hire of Cristina Vázquez as of counsel, a move that seems to be paying off. Vázquez, the former head of the country’s Energy Regulatory Agency, has quickly built an active department which advises various governmental bodies. She is helping the Planning and Budget Office set up a new agency to administer international cooperation funds, and assisting the energy directorate of the Uruguayan Industry Ministry in the creation of a certificates system to promote energy conservation. She has also been hired by the government to help it comply with recent data privacy and access to information regulation. Uruguay’s Water and Power Supply Regulatory Agency also asked for help in drafting laws and regulations relating to energy and water use.

CLIENTS

Ferrere Abogados’ leading multi-disciplinary service offer is reflected in its broad client base. One banking client calls the firm’s lawyers “very good analysts, very precise, extremely knowledgeable, and with admirable strategic skills. On top of that I have the impression that they are very well connected in Uruguay and have absolute integrity.” In that sector the firm is busiest in its work for JPMorgan, Credit Suisse and Dresdner in their lawsuits relating to the Banco Commercial bankruptcy, but by no means are they their only financial clients. Multilaterals like the International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank use the firm, as do prominent private banks such as France’s Crédit Agricole and investment funds like JH Partners of the US and Argentina’s Kaskira. In the insurance sphere Ferrere Abogados has been advising Alico since it entered Uruguay in 1996, and MetLife has confirmed that it will continue to use the firm as counsel once their merger is complete. Argentine insurer San Cristóbal is another client there.

Of the leading multinational corporates choosing to hire this firm, Nike, Sanofi-aventis, Vale, Siemens and GROUPON are good examples. The geographical spread in the client portfolio is notable too; from Canadian engineering company KSH Solutions to Greek shipping company Navios. The firm also attracts local business from the country’s largest private university, ORT, and Asociación Española, one of Uruguay’s largest health care providers. Uruguayan technology company Scanntech and Uruguay’s first forestry fund, Bosques del Uruguay, have also recently turned to the firm. Ferrere Abogados has carved out a niche in the work it does for government bodies. Recent such clients include the ministries of agriculture and industry, the Central Bank, the Planning and Budget Office and the Water and Power Supply Regulatory Agency.

One client describes the team as “very proactive professionals, very knowledgeable [and] very good in continually maintaining the flow of communication with their clients, always demonstrating that they are on top of things, which is an important part of the expected service.” “They give me a sense of being in good hands,” says another.

OFFICES

Multiple offices, both domestic and international, continue to be part of Ferrere Abogados’s strategy. With the Punta del Este branch opening in 2010 for real estate matters and to act as a point of contact for high-net-worth Brazilians and Argentineans, the firm now has premises in five Uruguayan cities. The others are in the Zonamerica free trade zone, a small presence in Colonia and a base in Tacuarembó for forestry clients. The firm is unique in its regional reach, with offices in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and La Paz in Bolivia, and in Paraguay’s capital Asunción (all listed in this guide). The head of the Asunción office, Néstor Loizaga, oversees the firm’s international operations.

ALLIANCES & NETWORKS

Ferrere Abogados is a member of Lataxnet, a tax related network of firms based in Latin America.

PROBONO

Ferrere Abogados’ lawyers each contribute around 40 hours per year to pro bono projects. Clients include Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez, which the firm advises in its campaign for traffic safety, and Ingenio, a business promotion group created as a joint venture between Laboratorio Tecnológico del Uruguay and ORT University Uruguay, which has financial support from the IADB. LL

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© 2017, Ferrere Attorneys