Ferrere

Latin Lawyer 2016 Uruguay

Top tier full service firm with regional reach

Established: 1957 Partners: 14 Total lawyers: 116

Ferrere is a full-service heavyweight and recognised internationally as a go-to firm in Uruguay. One of the top two firms in the country, it has built up its leading name through frequent appearances on high-end multi-jurisdictional transactions and disputes.

The firm also has a breadth of talent for a market of this size, with lawyers across the board winning praise from clients year after year. The firm is in high demand in most practice areas, but corporate, energy and capital markets stood out as some of the busiest in 2015. Appointments on big-ticket financial transactions and project financings in the renewables sector are also common, thanks to the firm’s solid relationship with the government and a growing group of clients in the international development space. Ferrere also has a very good reputation for disputes work and is aiming to consolidate its aviation and maritime services.

Ferrere has an unrivalled network of offices spanning South America’s smaller economies. Outside Uruguay, the firm has offices in Bolivia, Paraguay and most recently, in Ecuador, all of which are listed in this edition of Latin Lawyer 250. It has invested heavily in all three countries, hiring top lawyers locally and convincing home-grown talent to return from careers at law firms in the US. Their experience at heavyweight US firms and Ferrere’s institutional approach gives these offices an international air that has attracted foreign clients.

The firm’s ambitious plans include making its Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay offices match Ferrere in Uruguay by becoming the largest firms in their markets. In 2016, the firm is focusing heavily on its regional offering. The management is working hard to fully integrate its South American energy, arbitration, compliance, IP and labour practices so the best advice can be tapped, regardless of where a deal takes place. Clients appreciate this international outlook, noting the ‘excellent’ standard of knowledge.

MANAGEMENT

Managing partner Andrés Cerisola is a determined and effective leader who puts considerable time and thought into maintaining a well-established institution. He is also an effective promoter. Clients praise his 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’.

PEOPLE & PRACTICES

CORPORATE AND M&A

This is traditionally a strong suit for the firm, which is home to one of the country’s busiest transactional teams. Ferrere’s M&A group is led by the highly rated Martín Cerruti, who is praised for his ‘vast experience and professionalism’ and often handles the local legs of large, multi-jurisdictional deals. A peer praises him for his ‘experienced and professional management’ of his team. Unsurprisingly, he is recommended in LACCA Approved, in-house counsel research conducted by Latin Lawyer’s sister association, the Latin American Corporate Counsel Association. Headline client ExxonMobil sought his advice to buy Total’s stake in an ultra-deep oil field off the Uruguayan coast in 2015. Geraldine Ifrán also stands out. She helped international food company Parmalat acquire Mexican dairy company Distribuidora de Lácteos Algil in a cross-border deal that needed counsel in three Latin American jurisdictions. She also represented two Canadian pension funds for the acquisition of stakes in local renewable assets owned by Santander. As a team, Cerruti and Ifrán are ‘very focused on client service and are excellent on the technical side,’ says one client. Both recently helped Israel Discount Bank sell its local assets to Scotiabank. Rising star Santiago Fontana also pushed through big ticket deals in 2015. He represented New York-based Outfront Media in its asset sale to French counterpart JCDecaux in a multi-jurisdictional deal. The busy Fontana also found time to help rural services company Agrocentro buy two agribusinesses in Colonia, while simultaneously selling a chunk of its stock to New Zealand-based PGG Wrightson Seeds. Other past clients include Norwegian commodities investor Elkem, local meatpacker Frigorífico Carrasco, US medical technology developer Greatbatch and UK publisher Penguin. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its breadth of services, customers are keen to lavish praise on the practice. One says its lawyers ‘dive deep into our problems and issues, take our matters as theirs, and always have the company’s best interests as a priority’. Another client, who has worked with Ferrere since the firm’s foundation, as well as with its direct competitors, considers it the best firm in Uruguay, stressing its lawyers’ professionalism, dedication and friendly demeanour.

BANKING & FINANCE

Diego Rodríguez helps maintain the firm’s high profile in banking deals with demonstrable success. His team recently helped close the Uruguayan leg of BTG Pactual’s US$1.7 billion acquisition of Swiss banking group BSI. Meanwhile, Santiago Fontana, a lawyer singled out by a Norwegian peer for being ‘excellent and solution-oriented’, helped meal benefit companies Luncheon Tickets and Sodexo win approval from the country’s Central Bank to operate as electronic money issuers. He brings experience from time spent abroad, having worked at Ferrere’s Bolivian arm. Clients include Lloyds TSB, which previously drew on the team’s counsel to sell off its Uruguayan assets to Switzerland’s Union Bancaire Privée. Praise from customers comes thick and fast for this practice. One client describes the division as ‘particularly strong, both in terms of experience and service’, while adding the firm’s ability to ‘field a bilingual team that is culturally savvy’ as one reason why he ‘strongly recommends Ferrere as a top law firm in Uruguay’. Another banking client calls the firm’s lawyers ‘very good analysts, very precise, extremely knowledgeable, and with admirable strategic skills’.

CAPITAL MARKETS

Practice head Diego Rodríguez has steered many cutting-edge deals during his 20 years at Ferrere. One such example is his recent counsel to República Afisa as trustee in the first issuance by a wind-farm developer open to retail investors. República Afisa, which is controlled by Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay, has since returned to the firm for follow-up offerings. The team is also known for its pioneering work in deals that allow institutional investors to purchase securities in deferred instalments from local public and private companies, financial trusts and investment funds. Here, Rodríguez advised on what is thought to be largest deferred debt transaction to date, representing Agro Empresa Forestal in a US$70 million offering at the start of 2015. In another innovative deal, local engineering company Grinor sought counsel from the team as it issued bonds without exposing investors to construction risk. Finally, real estate developer CasasUru drew upon Rodríguez’s advice to offer shares in a trust that will build and sell low-income houses. Unsurprisingly given his high profile, Rodríguez is recommended in LACCA Approved.

PROJECT FINANCE & INFRASTRUCTURE

Project finance is consistently one of Ferrere’s busiest practices and Gonzalo Secco is often at the centre of the action. He helped regular client DNB Group Agencia en Chile grant a US$65 million loan to a 70-megawatt wind farm developed by Spanish engineering group Abengoa. SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, used a team led by the ever capable Secco to increase its presence in the global south, where it snapped up wind energy assets with a combined capacity of 757 megawatts. German wind farm developer SoWiTec also sought Secco and team’s advice to obtain a credit line for a wind farm. Diego Rodríguez, another figurehead for this busy department, advised Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay in its role as trustee in a recent nine-figure financing deal for a huge state-sponsored wind farm. More broadly, development banks feature heavily in the firm’s client books, including the Inter-American Development Bank and Corporación Andina de Fomento.

ARBITRATION

Ferrere has a leading reputation for disputes work. Sandra González (‘very talented, experienced in her field and a unique strategy-designer’, according to one client) leads the group. In 2015, she worked alongside Verónica Raffo to help Austrian technology group Andritz in an ICC dispute over the delivery and installation of equipment with the owners of Uruguay’s largest pulp mill, who agreed to pay Andritz a US$46 million settlement. Other major international cases remain ongoing, ensuring a steady stream of work for this respected department. Current clients include a Latin American private equity company, an international mining group, a US television provider and a leading oil and gas developer. The practice owes much to well-known arbitrator Andrés Cerisola, who is LACCA Approved. The firm’s managing partner has helped clients fight some of the biggest ICC arbitrations in the country. He remains on hand for especially complex cases despite relinquishing some of his responsibilities to concentrate on leading the firm. Cerisola worked alongside González to help private equity group Linzor Capital and local pharmaceutical retail investors prepare an ICSID claim against the Uruguayan government over legislation limiting drug retailers’ concentration in the local market.

LITIGATION

Litigation is another area where the firm stands out, both for its preventive strategies and for its high success rate. Sandra González, who is LACCA Approved, steers this well-respected practice. She won a precedent-setting case last year in which her team defeated insurance claims against Greek shipping company Tsakos by successfully arguing, contrary to a first-instance ruling, that liability and force majeure clauses can coexist in a contract. Other recent cases have involved an engineering contract dispute, creditor litigation and the enforcement of two multi-million dollar English-law judgments. Past clients include Uruguayan meatpacker Frigorífico Carrasco and Spain’s Telefónica defending claims over minority shareholder rights violations and anti-competitive practices respectively. The firm also helped a group of banks extract themselves from the Banco Comercial bankruptcy saga, winning multiple claims in local courts. Recently promoted litigator and arbitrator Alejandro Pintos looks set to take an increasingly prominent role. He is commended for his ‘great technical expertise and strong working relationship with the client’.

TAX

Ferrere has one of Uruguay’s largest tax teams. Gianni Gutiérrez, a high-end tax-structuring specialist, leads the firm’s work in this area with support from the highly regarded Alberto Varela. Both are recommended in LACCA Approved. The firm has developed a diverse portfolio of clients, drawing in work from the conventional energy, renewables, logistics and agriculture sectors. Meanwhile, the team has advised on everything from the structuring of liabilities to tax lawsuits. Local meatpacker Frigorífico Carrasco has turned to Gutiérrez and Martín Cerruti for tax matters in the past.

LABOUR

Verónica Raffo, who comes LACCA Approved, is a leading figure in labour law, having built up a recognised name during 19 years of practice. An attorney from a major international law firm describes her as a ‘superb lawyer, with a great commercial approach’ and ‘responsive and very expeditious’. Her workload centres on consultancy, although she is experienced in litigation and collective bargaining negotiations. Senior counsel Nelson Larrañaga also plays a prominent role in the firm’s labour department and is known for being a point of reference in labour and employment matters, who ‘shows strong commitment, intelligence and a strategic approach’. He is a key advocate in the Uruguayan legal market of arbitral proceedings over than collective bargaining action in labour disputes, first using the procedure to great effect in 2014 when he helped Belgian terminal operator Katoen Natie rescind its agreements with union workers. Indeed, the firm has gone on to use this tactic recently in a case of unfair dismissal at a leading Uruguayan pharmaceutical company. The group also set up a Chinese wall to provide labour advice to both the buyer and seller in a financial sector acquisition. Ferrere’s client base in recent years is as varied as the range of issues it advises on. Andritz, the main contractor for the Montes de Plata pulp mill, is a regular customer, most recently turning to the firm to redesign its labour relations strategy with the country’s influential construction and metal workers’ unions. Banks, airline companies and even the UN’s International Labour Organization are past clients.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Agustín Mayer leads a strong IP team and is comes LACCA Approved. Mayer is prominent in pharmaceuticals and media, while the team as a whole maintains a diverse portfolio. DirecTV, a regular client for over a decade, describes him as ‘not only an excellent lawyer but a great adviser on many strategic and global issues beyond the strict legal matters’. Another noted name in the IP department is senior associate Alejandro Alterwain, who is described as ‘extremely knowledgeable’. He also has experience in competition law, recently winning a union dispute on behalf of taxi-hailing application Easy Taxi. The practice group’s casework covers everything from unfair competition lawsuits to copyright and trademark disputes. Recent clients include an international financial trust and a leading supermarket chain.

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

Cristina Vázquez, the former head of the country’s Energy Regulatory Agency, has built up a solid department that advises various companies and government bodies on administrative or regulatory matters. Associate Cristina Vignone is singled out for being a ‘very hard worker and proactive’, with superb knowledge of the energy sector. Clients also applaud her support throughout the decision-making process. Recent work has seen lawyers counsel a major international development bank on the construction of its headquarters in a historically protected part of Montevideo and advise a local logistics provider on additions to its concession contract. More broadly, the team has racked up considerable experience advising clients in their bids for a broad range of projects – from the country’s first prison concession to a digital services contract.

INSURANCE & REINSURANCE

Geraldine Ifrán leads the way in this area, and is credited with helping to develop the practice following the opening up of Uruguay’s insurance market. Her team helped a Swiss insurance providers recover performance-based securities assets in 2015. Various North American and European companies rely on the firm for licensing and regulatory advice.

ENERGY

Gonzalo Secco, a leading light in Uruguay’s thriving renewables market, has established a diversified energy practice that regularly advises clients in the sector on financing matters and power purchase agreements. A major international oil and gas company turned to the firm for advice on the takeover of a rival, while numerous non-conventional energy developers seek the practice’s counsel on a variety of local projects. German turbine manufacturer Enercon is a past client, having turned to the firm for advice for a power purchase agreement with Uruguay’s state-run utilities’ provider UTE. In 2015, Martín Cerrutihelped ExxonMobil buy Total’s stake in an ultra-deep oil field off the Uruguayan coast. Counsel Cristina Vázquez is also prominent here. She has held top positions in several public bodies that regulate the sector.

SPORT & ENTERTAINMENT

Agustín Mayer captains a team that counts some of Uruguay’s premier entertainment providers as clients. Peñarol, the country’s most successful football team, is a long-standing client. It recently turned to the firm to successfully claim unpaid debt from Italian team Parma over the loan of defender Emilio MacEachen. Another important return customer is DirecTV. The US-based satellite company sought the firm’s advice on broadcasting the Copa EuroAmericana, which took place last year in Montevideo. It describes the firm ‘as an actual part of our team’.

CLIENTS

In the banking sector the firm is kept busy advising multilaterals like the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Corporación Andina de Fomento, and prominent commercial banks such as BTG Pactual, Crédit Agricole, Intesa, Lloyds, Santander and Israel Discount Bank. Investment funds like JH Partners of the United States, Argentina’s Kaskira and Chilean private equity group Linzor also use the firm, as do Canadian retirement funds Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Public Sector Pension Investments. In the insurance sphere Ferrere has been advising Alico since it entered Uruguay in 1996, and MetLife has continued to use the firm as counsel following its formative merger. Argentinian insurer San Cristóbal is another client in the sector. Of the leading multinational corporates choosing to hire this firm, Exxon Mobil, Greatbatch, Groupon, Nike, Sanofi, Siemens, SoWiTec, Stahl and Vale are good examples. The geographical spread in the client portfolio is notable too, from Canadian engineering company KSH Solutions to Greek shipping company Navios and Italian dairy maker Parmalat. The firm also attracts local business from the country’s largest private university, ORT Uruguay and Asociación Española, one of the country’s largest health-care providers. Meanwhile, a host of engineering and construction companies, including CasasUru, Conimex, Traxpalco, Grinor and Saceem, use the firm. Uruguayan technology company Scanntech and Uruguay’s first forestry fund, Bosques del Uruguay, have also turned to the firm. Ferrere has carved out a niche in the work it does for government bodies. Clients include the ministries of agriculture and industry, the Central Bank, the Planning and Budget Office, and the Water and Power Supply Regulatory Agency. Ferrere’s professionalism is often at the core of client recommendations. ‘Their commitment with the customer, performing with great expertise and being 100 per cent available, any time. Above all, Ferrere’s lawyers are people to rely on, with great trust and sound knowledge, that is all that matters to us,’ one client says. ‘They give me a sense of being in good hands,’ says another.

OFFICES

Ferrere has the largest national presence of any firm listed in this chapter. Outside Montevideo, there is a branch in Punta del Este for real estate matters and high-net-worth foreigners, and another branch in the Zonamerica free trade zone; a small presence in the city of Colonia; and a base in Tacuarembó for forestry clients. The firm also has a notable regional presence with 10 offices spread across Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and, as of 2015, Ecuador (all listed in this guide). The firm coordinates all offices to align its service offer, in a bid to increase overall competitiveness and stimulate further growth. For this purpose Ferrere has been working to repatriate Bolivian, Ecuadorean and Paraguayan talent working in firms overseas, alongside attracting skilled foreign lawyers wishing to work in Latin America.

ALLIANCES & NETWORKS

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

PRO BONO

Ferrere has recently provided free legal aid to Xcala, which provides start-up funding and offers training to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and network managers. Several members of the firm are also highly committed to entrepreneurship programmes. Andrés Cerisola is board chairman for the local affiliate of New York-based entrepreneurship foundation Endeavor, while Veronica Raffo chairs the Organisation of Businesswomen of Uruguay. She also dedicates considerable time to initiatives and organisations that promote gender equality and provides legal advice to the World Female Business Association and Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices programme.

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