The Brazilian law firm Lefosse is growing by leaps and bounds in an effort to position itself as one of the premier, full-service legal shops in Latin America’s largest economy.
Over the course of the past year, Lefosse has lured partners from crosstown rivals to strengthen its capabilities in restructuring, dispute resolution, infrastructure, tax, life science and health care, and antitrust matters—while also opening an office in the Brazilian capital, Brasília.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lefosse recruited nearly 200 lawyers, bringing the firm’s head count to more than 400 attorneys.
“We believe that the Brazilian market will have a type of Magic Circle in the next two to three years,” Lefosse managing partner Rodrigo Junqueira told Law.com International, using the term often applied to the U.K.’s elite law firms. “There is space for maybe three firms in that circle. Our strategy is to be there.”
Junqueira, 44, took on the managing partner role at Lefosse from Carlos Mello in July 2021. He was appointed to a three-year term, although he would like to stay in the position for at least six years so he can accomplish his many ambitious goals.
“I’m a little bit more aggressive [than Mello] in terms of lateral hires and growth. I’m putting more speed on projects,” Junqueira said, adding that he appreciates when Mello counsels him to be more patient and conservative on his quest for transformation.
Both partners jumped to Lefosse in 2010 from Mattos Filho, Brazil’s largest law firm by head count. They took 15 associates with them. The mass defection sent shockwaves through a market that was largely unaccustomed to lateral moves.
At the time, Lefosse focused mainly on tax and capital markets, recalls Silvia Eyng, the firm’s chief executive officer, who was previously Lefosse’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer. It has since expanded its offering through tactical investments in multiple practice areas to position itself as a more well-rounded strategic partner for global firms.
In 2021 alone, the firm added three new practice areas, bringing the total to 19.
Lefosse is based in the business hub of São Paulo, and also has an office in Rio de Janeiro in addition to a recently launched outpost in Brasília.
Lefosse’s practice area heads have been traveling extensively this year—to the U.S. and Europe—in an effort to raise the firm’s profile overseas and drum up referrals.
“They [global law firms] know us well, but they didn’t know how much we have grown during the pandemic and our complete capacity to render services to clients,” said Junqueira.
One major selling point is M&A—an area in which Lefosse has quickly scaled the league tables in recent years.
According to Transactional Track Record, which monitors a broad base of deals in Latin America, Lefosse ranked second by U.S. dollar value for mergers and acquisitions in Brazil during 2021, having worked 61 deals worth roughly $18 billion. The previous year, Lefosse ranked 13th.
The top-ranked firm in Brazil for M&A last year was Mattos Filho, which worked 96 deals worth over $28 billion. Pinheiro Neto Advogados took third place in the Transactional Track Record tally, with 62 deals worth more than $15 billion.
Four members of Lefosse’s executive committee—Junqueira, Mello, Luiz Octavio Lopes and Sergio Machado—focus heavily on M&A. The other committee members are CEO Eyng and tax partner Gustavo Haddad.
Lefosse adheres to a pure lock-step model: Its 56 equity partners have equal equity shares, regardless of seniority or revenues generated. This allows partners to spread risks and share outsized proceeds more evenly, Junqueira says.
“We don’t have any owners. Of course, we have a few partners that have more influence in the firm,” he said, citing rainmakers as an example. “But we don’t have anyone like a dictator, saying things that everyone needs to follow. We do not work this way.”
Brazilian law firms in general have had a spectacular financial run during the pandemic. Capital markets boomed. Foreign investment poured into the country. Lefosse does not disclose revenue, but Junqueira says the pandemic years have been his firm’s best ever.
With a population of more than 210 million and a geographic territory roughly the size of the continental U.S., Brazil is a tantalizing entry point for global investors and law firms. Yet the market is also very complex, with a reputation for protectionist policies.
In 2001, Lefosse entered into an association with Linklaters amid a wave of cross-border legal tie-ups in Brazil. That exclusive agreement ended in 2012 when the Brazilian Bar explicitly forbade international firms from practicing local law in Brazil.
Carlos Mello, who flew to London after the Bar decision to discuss options with Linklaters, said the separation was mutual, amicable and that the firms continue to collaborate.
“We simply decided these are the rules, so let’s play by the rules and move forward,” said Mello. “We [at Lefosse] have been independent ever since.”
Mello says Lefosse also works frequently with U.K.-based Clifford Chance as well as U.S.-headquartered Sullivan & Cromwell and Latham & Watkins.
“I find Lefosse very responsive and one of the stronger Brazilian corporate firms,” says Anthony Oldfield, managing partner of the São Paulo office of Clifford Chance.
Oldfield also perceives the formation of a Magic Circle in Brazil, with Lefosse, Mattos Filho and Pinheiro Neto within that elite group.
Antonio Del Pino, the New York-based global chair of Latham & Watkins’ Latin America practice, describes Lefosse as “user-friendly” and “solutions driven” in a market that can be tough to navigate.
Lefosse is more commercial than most Brazilian firms, he says, adding that the partners there are focused on getting issues resolved rather than trying to win points with clients.
“They’ve become a lot more one of our go-to firms in Brazil over the last couple of years,” said Del Pino, who has worked with Lefosse lawyers on and off for nearly a decade. He and other Latham partners worked with Lefosse earlier this year advising American Airlines on a $200 million investment in GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes, Brazil’s largest airline.
Sergio Galvis, the New York-based head of the Latin America group at Sullivan & Cromwell, also traces his relationship with Lefosse back nearly a decade—to when the two firms advised on UnitedHealth’s 90% stake in Amil Participações S.A., Brazil’s largest health insurer and hospital operator.
“Since then, we have maintained close ties with the firm as they have tackled some of the highest-profile deals coming out of Brazil,” said Galvis, who frequently discusses firm management and strategy with leaders at Lefosse.
Galvis credits Lefosse’s fast growth to the firm’s deep connections with Brazilian business leaders and its high-quality service.
“The firm’s technical expertise, business acumen, solution-oriented approach and dedication to their clients have made Lefosse stand out as one of the top Latin American firms,” he said.