For the last eight years of my career as a solicitor in the City I have been trying to understand why Latin America is not a key strategic target for law firms in London.
Some Latin American countries have the fastest and most stable economies in the world. Businesses are growing and there are sectors, such as infrastructure and mining that require the knowledge and capabilities of these London firms. However, it is difficult to find a firm in the City that has a dedicated Latin American team or has Latin American companies as a target for growth.
It is true that due to language, geographical distance and currency exchange issues London never has been the preferred legal market for Latin American countries but these should not be a barrier. The real barrier for creating business seems to be the fact that very few Latin Americans lawyers study or undertake exchange professional programmes within the UK. Furthermore, very few English lawyers have any experience working in Latin America.
Latin American lawyers tend to go to the U.S. to do their masters and post-graduate professional studies. They also are offered the opportunities to obtain work experience in U.S. law firms and there are continuous exchange programmes between U.S. lawyers and Latin American lawyers. These opportunities not only allow knowledge transfer but also create life-long relationships, which create business opportunities. Such business opportunities do not exist in the UK because there are no professional exchange programmes. Although, there are a high number of Latin American undertaking legal studies in the UK when their studies finish the work experience opportunities do not exist because there is no continuous and structured exchange programme between law firms in the City and law firms in Latin America.
Long term business opportunities for City law firms in Latin America are great. But law firms in the City need to work together with Latin American law firms to create structured exchange programmes to build the links for future business and create networks that will break down barriers and forge these life-long links.