The Latin American Corporate Counsel Association counts the region’s largest and best-known companies among its membership. For the first time, we have mapped those companies to present original research into the law firms used most often by their in-house legal departments.

The information is based originally on stories in our sister publication, Latin Lawyer, backed up by information from in-house teams and law firms.

Leading law firms in Latin America

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP is used more often than any other law firm by Latin America’s top 100 companies, according to the results as set out in figure 1 below.

Fig.1) Most popular law firms with Latin America’s top 100 companies (frequency of appearances)

Top firms

The US firm is used by at least 21 of the companies, including four of the top ten – Petrobras, Pemex, Vale and América Móvil; it is also used by Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad, Italian conglomerate Techint and Chile’s copper utility Codelco, which appear in the top twenty. Of the companies using Cleary Gottlieb, eight are based in Mexico, five in Brazil, three in Chile, two in Argentina, and the remaining three are headquartered outside Latin America.

Brazil’s Mattos Filho Veiga Filho Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados is the most popular firm based in a Latin American jurisdiction – and the second most-used firm in the region after Cleary – with at least 17 of the top 100 companies using its services.

Four firms share third place on the list of most-used firms, each featuring 13 times. Two of these are Brazilian (Barbosa Müssnich & Aragão and Machado Meyer Sendacz e Opice Advogados) and two are international (White & Case LLP and Clifford Chance LLP).

Within the top ten as a whole, only four of the law firms are international. The others are all from Brazil, except for the Consortium group of law firms in Central America, which appears in ninth place.

Leading law firms by jurisdiction

Analysed by the jurisdiction in which law firms are based, Cleary is obviously the most popular of the international law firms to appear, followed by White & Case and Clifford Chance. With 11 appearances, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP, appears in fourth place.

Similarly, of the Brazilian firms, Mattos Filho leads the field, with Barbosa Müssnich, Machado Meyer and Souza Cescon Barrieu e Flesch Advogados in the subsequent three positions.

As for Mexico, although three of the top ten companies are based in the country – Pemex, América Móvil and Walmart de Mexico – and sixteen Mexican companies are on the list in total, the first home-grown Mexican firm to feature is Ritch Mueller SC, with five representations.

Also with five appearances, Buenos Aires-based Pérez Alati Grondona Benites Arntsen & Martínez de Hoz is the most popular Argentine firm on the list, with Brasil Foods its highest-ranking client at number 26.

In Chile, Cariola Díez Pérez-Cotapos & Cía appeared five times on the list, followed closely by Carey y Cía Abogados with four appearances.

Colombia’s Brigard & Urrutia Abogados is the first law firm from that country to appear, representing six companies including two state-owned Colombian enterprises: Ecopetrol and Empresas Publicas de Medellín.

Guyer & Regules leads the Uruguayan firms. In Bolivia, Moreno Baldivieso Estudio de Abogados achieves three representations, including first-place company Petrobras. Meanwhile, Pérez Bustamante & Ponce features most frequently in Ecuador, and Estudio Jurídico Gross Brown is first in Paraguay.

In Central America, Consortium Centro América Abogados appears to dominate representation in the region, counting at least 12 clients from the top 100 companies across Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Overall, as shown in figure 2, more Brazilian firms appear on the list than any other nationality; international firms follow second, then Mexican firms.

Fig. 2) Proportion of law firms by jurisdiction (%)

Law firms by jurisdiction

The companies

As one might expect, the proportions of law firms from different jurisdictions on the list corresponds roughly to the proportions of companies from each nationality in the top 100. As shown in figure 3 below, 45 per cent of the companies are based in Brazil and more Brazilian law firms feature on the list than those of any other nationality.

Chilean companies – which include Enersis, Minera Escondida and CMPC – appear in the third highest frequency after Brazilian and Mexican entities.

Fig. 3) Proportion of companies by home jurisdiction (%)

Companies by jurisdiction

Of the top 100 companies, 12 are state-owned. While this is not a large proportion of the total, state-owned enterprises appear disproportionately towards the top of the rankings, including the top three – petrochemical companies Petrobras, Pemex and Venezuela’s PDVSA.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the legal departments of larger companies, with more subsidiaries and more complex needs, generally use more external counsel than smaller companies. Indeed, in the top 25, the average counsel list length is about 11; that in the final 25 is about six firms.

Within the top ten, the average consists of around 13 law firms. However, only four of the companies with lists of over 13 law firms fall in the top ten, at Odebrecht, América Móvil, Petrobras and Vale. Others occur throughout the top 100, such as Nestlé, ranked 61st with at least 25 firms, and Grupo Televisa, ranked 84th with 24 firms (see figure 4).

Fig. 4) Companies which hire the most law firms

Counsel lists

Methodology

The companies are selected from a hierarchical list ranked by 2011 revenue. Since data on counsel are compiled from Latin Lawyer stories from 2011, only companies covered by the publication in that year have been included. As a result, this list of the largest companies may differ from those published elsewhere.

The majority of companies are represented as regional parent groups, not as individual country subsidiaries. However some subsidiaries, where the parent company has openly treated the subsidiary differently revenue-wise, are treated as independent entities.

Since Latin Lawyer focuses much more on corporate transactions than on other types of legal assistance, the core data have wherever possible been verified with in-house legal departments. However, not all companies responded to requests, and some responders could not check all jurisdictions.

So, as a further check, all law firms were asked to confirm they have represented the companies in question since January 2011. If a law firm was added to the list as counsel for a company in the course of this research, the information was checked with the firm’s contact at the company first. In short, the data have been verified as much as possible.

Finally, for the purposes of working out the frequency of law firm use, where the local offices of international firms appear alongside the international operation on the same counsel list, the two appearances are counted as one entry. By contrast, Latin American firms with multinational operations are counted once for each jurisdiction in which they work, even if this occurs in the same counsel list. While not lessening the fact that that Consortium clearly leads the Central American field, this may account for the firm's prominence on the most-used list, Central America being the only part of the region where multinational firms are a strong reality.

In part because of the focus of Latin Lawyer stories and thus of the original data, and in part because response rates to requests to confirm information, while high, were not 100%, this list should not be viewed as definitive. Any in-house counsel or law firm is welcome to discuss or update our results by emailing editorial@laccanet.com.