A quarter of a century! It was on 1st June 1978 that we founded our firm, Noronha Advogados, then Noronha, Machado and Salles. In the beginning, it was only a dream. Then, suddenly …e pure si muove. I can clearly remember the rush of excitement at realising a professional ambition, cooled by the icy feeling of uncertainty. I fondly remember the faces of my fellow colleagues in the undertaking, equally marked by motivation and doubt. After all, we were entering risky uncharted waters as liberal lawyers. We were three partners, José Maurício Machado (then 28 years old), Antonio Carlos de Moraes Salles Filho (then 26 years old) and myself (then 26 years old); a trainee, Luís Ernesto Gozzoli, who later became partner; a secretary, Vivian Elsbach and an office boy, Walther Mitsuiama. Soon, José Paulo Lago Alves Pequeno, would join the group as a lawyer and, immediately afterwards, as partner.
Times were difficult. We lived in the dark days of the military dictatorship. To practise law in a dictatorship is clearly problematic. The firm faced a profound ethical dilemma from the start. Even in the face of the difficulties in the early days, we decided that we would not act on behalf of the government or state-owned companies. We did not want to be co-opted into the hateful system. The so-called “Brazilian miracle” had already ended and foreign capital had beaten a hasty retreat in one of those pendulum swings that can afflict developing economies. The major law firms, which remain our main competitors to this date, already existed and the legal profession suffered an economic downturn.
A search for niches in which Noronha Advogados could compete was paramount, given the specialisation of its partners. We opted for legal assistance in the fields of companies and capital markets, which were regulated by the recently introduced laws of 1976; external borrowings; international trade law; the fiscal sector; and commercial agreements. Clearly, there was a strong emphasis on financial and international law. We did not have a litigation department. Professional activity was growing and we often worked seven days a week. Our fee invoices were prepared directly by the partners on the night of the last day of the month, around a bottle of JB Whisky and cans of cashew nuts.
At the outset we set up a professional development programme for our staff, which preceded, by almost two decades, a similar initiative by the Brazilian Bar Association. Moreover, we decided to implement a programme of affirmative action for women lawyers. At that time, women represented only a small minority of the legal profession and encountered difficulties achieving promotion.
Many of those who have been our companions for years, including Eliana Filippozzi, Ruben Fonseca and Clarice Tchala, already worked with us in July 1982. We inaugurated, in that month and year, our first office abroad, located in Miami, Florida, USA, which was run by a new partner, Lawrence Evans, in order to assist our exporter clients, whose products entered into the USA through the southern ports, notably Houston and New Orleans. Noronha Advogados was the first Brazilian law firm to open an office in the USA and the only one for a period of approximately 15 years! In order to facilitate communication between the São Paulo and Miami offices, we developed a tailor-made computer program, which was the first of its kind to be used by law firms in the world. The feat was the result of the work of Lyman Booth Tucker and was the subject of a special chapter in an IT book. I can clearly remember the pride we felt when Petrobras´ representatives came to examine how the system worked.
At the same time, we opened an office in Rio de Janeiro, with a new partner, Edwin Walter jr. Subsequently, the partners Luis Ernesto Gozzoli and Gemecyr Nogueira, (now sadly deceased), joined the Rio office, and more recently our colleague Carolina Carvalho. We then also started to deal with litigation, mainly corporate, with a new partner Joel Fontão Teixeira. It was at that time that Ideli Silva joined Noronha Advogados. We opened an office in the Federal Capital, Brasilia, in 1984, with a new partner Lúcia Teixeira Bahia, who worked with us for many years. Many years later, Carlos Palmeira assumed Lúcia´s post and, more recently, Vladimir Spíndola, on Carlos´ secondment to São Paulo to take care of central management in São Paulo. At that time, we already operated in all fields of Brazilian law, except, as nowadays, bankruptcy and criminal law. Leila Nogueira was then appointed to head the commercial contracts department, which is now under Patrícia Lacerda´s.
We opened an office in London in 1988, and were consequently the first Brazilian law firm to open an office in Europe! Our partner Dulce Maria Goyos Sicoli was sent to our London office and did an impressive job, which was continued by Eliana Filippozzi, from 1989. It was Eliana who recruited Robert Williams in London, and he subsequently became a partner and moved to Brazil, where he got married and raised a family. We opened an office in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1990, so as to assist in matters pertaining to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as well as to assist clients in Central Europe. Frank Caramuru, a partner who spoke German, in addition to other languages, went to our Swiss office. From there, we supported the Brazilian Government in the negotiations of the Uruguay Round. It was the first time in its history that Brazil used private negotiators.
We were then one of the first law firms in the world to have a personal computer for each lawyer. We developed internally the first office management program in the Brazilian market and also had the first Internet site. Still pioneering, following Portugal´s entry into the then European Community, we opened an office in Lisbon, in 1990, which was then headed by the partner Vera de Moraes Dantas, who is now in London with Eliana. From 1999, Maria Antónia Cameira became the partner responsible for the Lisbon office.
With the coming of Mercosul, in 1994, we opened an office in Buenos Aires, with the partners Martin Dedeu and Elbio Ferrario. We opened an office in Los Angeles, in 1998, which was the first Brazilian law firm office on the west coast of the Americas, headed by the partner Aurelio Guzzoni. In 2000, we opened offices in Curitiba, with the partner Miriam Marchiori; in Porto Alegre, with the colleague Eduardo Bratz; in Manaus, under the responsibility of Rogério Damasceno Leal; and Salvador, with our colleague Andrea Testoni, all in Brazil. In 2001, we opened the first (and, to date, only) Brazilian and Latin American Lawyers office in the People´s Republic of China, with the colleague Cristina Luo. The partner Lilian Thomé was entrusted with the control, from São Paulo, of the Brazilian regional offices.
Our professional activities in multiple jurisdictions, a direct result of our 17 offices in 7 countries, has led us to prepare an internal ethics code consolidating the rules of all bar associations of the countries in which we operate. We have encouraged our lawyers to qualify in other jurisdictions and have achieved an exemplary record of success.
We assist thousands of clients in a wide range of matters. Some of these clients are still with us, after a quarter of a century. Others no longer exist. Many became friends. After all, the credibility which is essential for the practice of law is also a fertile ground for personal friendships. In addition to financial and non-financial companies of various kinds, we have gone on to assist various sovereign countries in international law matters.
We train hundreds of professionals from dozens of countries, who are currently with us or back to their countries using what they learned at and their professional experience gained at Noronha Advogados. The importance of the experience with us is visibly reflected on the faces of our young trainees. All our professionals speak at least two languages and we value the ethnic, political and religious diversity of our colleagues.
Ultimately, we have built the first and only international and global law firm to have originated in a developing country. This extraordinary achievement makes us all proud and is already part of history. This success would not have been possible without the support of our clients and friends, as well as the formidable legion of collaborators, trainees, lawyers and partners who have been or still are part of Noronha Advogados, and who laboriously have built this reputable and internationally recognised firm.
These are the foundations of our future…
Lawyer admitted in Brazil, England and Wales and Portugal. GATT and WTO panelist. Brazilian government ad-hoc representative for the Uruguay Round of the GATT. Post-graduation professor of the law of international trade.