Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
I would like to thank you all for joining us on the special occasion of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Noronha Advogados’ offices in the United Kingdom, a milestone that is very significant to us, partners and stakeholders in the firm, as well as to the legal professions of the developing world.
In 1987, Brazil was emerging from 23 traumatic years of a sombre dictatorship. A constituent assembly had been installed, and a transitional process for democratic rule was under way. Our law firm started operations in 1978 and found it difficult to sustain growth under the military rule. Noronha Advogados had adopted a policy to the effect that the firm would not represent government companies. It was, as far as we know, the only commercial firm with such a policy. The public sector then represented 70% of the country’s GDP.
We then chose to pursue the provision of legal services in the international area, notably in international trade. Thus, we set up our first international offices in Miami, Florida, USA, 25 years ago, in 1982. We were the first Brazilian law firm in the United States and the first international firm in Florida. By 1987, we also had offices in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, our capital.
In that year, the then 12 partners of the firm took the decision to establish a commercial presence in London, United Kingdom, to be in the financial capital of the world and thus to support Brazilian companies in accessing the international financial voluntary markets, by no means an easy task in those times. We also wanted to be near other international firms, with a view to accessing their services to support our clients in third jurisdictions. Dulce Sicoli, who is with us tonight, and who has since retired, was the first partner in charge of our London offices.
During the 20 years of our commercial presence in London, we have had three of our partners qualify as solicitors in England and Wales, including Eliana Filippozzi, the first Brazilian lawyer to do so, and Vera Dantas. We were also the first Brazilian firm to be present in the UK and regulated by the Law Society of England and Wales and still are the only one. We now have 8 lawyers based in London, including one Chinese.
The initial years were difficult ones for us, as Brazil took a long time, as expected, to overcome the disastrous legacy of the military rule. In 1987, inflation was 415% in our country. As a comparison, the projection for this year is 4.0%. Brazil’s external trade was only US$ 40 billion, which is puny compared to almost US$ 300 billion today. In 1989, Brazil declared a most unfortunate moratorium of its foreign debt. The foreign reserves of the country were on US$ 7 billion, compared to almost US$ 200 billion today.
I recall attending a legal conference in those days in a central European country when several people moved away from my wife and I when they read the name of the country on our identification tags. To make matters worse, Brazil had severe exchange controls which made difficult the cash management in the firm.
Over the years, economic reforms were put in place in Brazil, which restored economic credibility and supported a favourable business climate. The country’s participation in foreign trade doubled during this period of 20 years, the economy will grow about 5% this year, and the GDP has passed the mark of US$ 1 trillion. This year, Brazil will receive approximately US$ 40 billion in foreign investment of which it has become one of the world’s favourite recipients.
It is widely recognised today that Brazil has one of the world’s most vibrant economies and the prospects for the medium and long term are brilliant. Our many social problems have been addressed responsibly by our federal government and the historic imbalances are being gradually but firmly reduced.
Our firm also grew over the period. From 12 partners and 48 associates in 1987, we now have 41 partners and 175 associates today. From 4 offices in 1987, we have added offices in London in that year, in Lisbon, Portugal and in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1989; in Buenos Ayres, in 1994, with the inception of Mercosul; in Los Angeles, USA, in 1999; and in Shanghai, the People’s Republic of China, in 2001, where we were the first Latin firm.
In Brazil, we have since opened offices in Porto Alegre, in Curitiba, in Salvador, in Recife and in Manaus. Today, we have 11 offices in 6 countries. We became the first and only global firm originating in a developing country and will continue to pursue our expansion policy in the international area.
Our commercial presence in London was essential in our achievements, which would not have been possible without the help, trust and support of our local friends, many of whom are here with us today. We wish our story will encourage many other law firms and lawyers from developing countries to pursue the same route in international law as we have.
Thank you very much.
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.