Claire Rason from Morales & Besa in Santiago tells us about legal life in Chile and opportunities for UK firms in the market. Claire is a speaker at the Law Society’s International Marketplace conference on 9 July in London.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
After reading law at University, I decided to continue on the path to become a lawyer because I was struck by how pervasive the law is. What do I like about being a lawyer? The exposure to a range of businesses and individuals, the ability to help businesses achieve the results they want, negotiating and above all the constant intellectual challenge that being a lawyer presents.
Tell us about your firm.
Morales & Besa was founded in 1992 by a group of leading Chilean lawyers. It is a full-service law firm with particular strengths in the areas of Banking & Finance and Corporate/M&A. The firm has 60 lawyers, making it one of the largest in Santiago, and has a range of clients: it acts for both major Chilean corporates as well as world renowned multi-nationals.
You have worked as a lawyer in both Santiago and London, how do they compare?
I have been lucky to have worked at leading law firms in London and Santiago. There are a number of similarities: the level and quality of the advice offered; the systems in place to protect clients’ interests; the need to be commercial and more than just someone who “knows the law”. There are of course cultural differences which spill over into the workplace. Long lunches are more frequent in Santiago than they were in London, whilst catching up over a pint remains quintessentially British. I think that companies coming to Chile are struck by the higher levels of bureaucracy here and Chile tends to be more of an unknown quantity than London – this means that lawyers in Chile tend to offer more in the way of general advice on how to get by in a country which is often alien to the client. That said, the advice given is often that Chile is not as alien as is assumed.
What are the main challenges and opportunities for Chilean law firms as the legal services market becomes increasingly globalised?
I think that the challenges and opportunities are no different in Chile than they are for firms in other jurisdictions. I think that the main challenge is to be able to understand the subtleties that working with people overseas represents (and here I refer as much to lawyers in overseas firms as I do to individuals within client companies). The main opportunities, as I see it, are to be able to take part in increasingly complex cross-border transactions which offer larger networks for our clients and enable more co-operation with overseas firms.
What advice would you give to companies new to Chile?
Chile is in my view a great place for a company to start doing business in Latin America. It has long been regarded as the most politically and economically stable and this is reflected in a wealth of rankings, as well as in Chile’s membership of the OECD. It is a relatively easy place to do business in and it is a country that is increasingly being used as a stepping stone to the region. Chile is a country where networks and person relationships are highly valued and as such my advice would be to make sure you make the time to visit the country and meet the people you are doing business with as this will stand you in good stead going forward.
You are speaking at our International Marketplace conference this year which focuses on the ‘London Link’, what opportunities for co-operation are there between Chilean and UK law firms?
I think that traditionally co-operation between UK and Chilean law firms was driven by UK clients investing in Chile. Chile’s economy is influenced heavily by its copper mining industry and multi-national miners such as AngloAmerican, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto represent important UK investors here. Notwithstanding, Chile has enjoyed a long commercial history with the UK and there will have been examples of co-operation spanning back many decades. I think that currently opportunities are being driven by Chilean companies: which is an exciting shift. A number of Chilean companies are expanding into the region (retail giants such as Cencosud leading the way). As Chilean companies grow and look for more financing, London’s offering will become ever more important. Chile´s mining sector – which relies heavily on having the infrastructure and energy in place to sustain it – continues to provide opportunities for cross-border transactions.
Finally, what are your recommendations for visitors to Santiago?
Don’t leave without trying a pisco sour!