Eduardo Benavides from Berninzon & Benavides in Lima tells us about legal life in Peru and what opportunities there are for UK and Peruvian firms.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
My early view of the legal profession was narrow and idealistic, very much influenced by the good defender model portrayed by Hollywood films and American TV series of the 1970s. During my first years in law school I was not 100% convinced that I really wanted to be a lawyer. But this was going to change.
In Peru law students are required to start internships very early in their career. In my case after a short stay with a local bank I went to a big law firm that had a strong international practice. That opened my eyes to a complete new world, where lawyers have many hats and a very versatile and dynamic role. I found these multiple personalities, multiple time zones as well as the complexity and leadership potential of the role simply fascinating, which would demand not just a good command of local law but a number of skills and abilities beyond the legal world. And this ended up being a perfect fit for my personality and goals.
Tell us about your firm.
Berninzon & Benavides is a full service business law firm with 30 lawyers and a total staff of close to 70 people. We have offices in Lima and presence in all main cities in Peru. We started the firm in the late 90s and since then have built a good reputation as one of the top legal firms counselling foreign companies doing business and investing in Peru.
You have worked as a lawyer in both Lima and London, how do they compare?
Peruvian law is based on the Roman civil system, the court system is very different. Our court proceedings are mainly based on written allegations filed before the judge. Witnesses are given very little credit.
Transactional work is more similar. Common practice in Peru is to use international standards and common law structures.
The work load is not very different between law firms in both jurisdictions although Peruvian law firms tend to be understaffed and to react slowly to work demand. My impression is that an average associate in one of the top 40 law firms in Peru is responsible for more clients, more files and more projects than their peers in London.
What are the main challenges and opportunities for Peruvian law firms as the legal services market becomes increasingly globalised?
Peru’s economy is booming and we are one of the top recipients of foreign investment in the region. At the same time Peruvian companies have started to invest in the region and a new set of free trade agreements with our main trade partners has boosted trade exchange and Peruvian exports.
One of the challenges for Peruvian law firms is to retain and develop good quality professional resources with foreign languages and international expertise that can work with international clients and multidisciplinary task groups. The market has become very competitive and as the Peruvian economy keeps growing, the competition for getting young talented attorneys is also harsher. It is not easy to find good attorneys that understand cultural differences, international issues and that are flexible enough.
At the same time, the new globalised economy opens new doors and huge opportunities for Peruvian lawyers to do work in the region and abroad. Peru has a privileged location, it is part of the Pacific Alliance but also the gateway from South America to Asia. It is a close friend of the US but also has many links with Europe.
What advice would you give to companies new to Peru?
First, mind the cultural gap and second do retain local legal counsel. Some companies make big mistakes, which can completely undermine their chances of succeeding in Peruvian markets because they have not taken care of the cultural differences.
A good local counsel will not only assist a foreign company to gain a good understanding of the legal issues but they will also play a key role in establishing good relations with government agencies and local stakeholders, in performing proper due diligence of assets and businesses, in protecting your trademarks and intellectual property and in finding good business partners, among others.
What opportunities for co-operation are there between Peruvian and UK law firms?
In terms of location, logistics and relations, Lima is a good hub for international law firms to do business in the region and there are many areas for cooperation.
With the economy in Peru speedily growing, there is a huge demand for infrastructure, water projects, mining and energy and British firms are leaders in these areas.
London also has the potential for becoming a preferred place of arbitration for international disputes, although it is not yet a popular venue in Latin Amercia.
However there is a lack of awareness about the position that the UK and London holds in managing substantial parts of international transactional work, and what the UK can offer to Peru’s economy. This is indeed a challenge for the future.
Finally, what are your recommendations for visitors to Lima?
Lima is a wonderful city, sometimes a bit chaotic, hectic and noisy but really very attractive and entertaining, with a rich, history and fascinating culture.
When in Lima for business or pleasure, the best places to stay are the districts of San Isidro and Miraflores, in the south part of the metropolis. This is the modern part of the city, next to the ocean front. But certainly I do recommend visiting Lima’s 500 years old city centre.
Public transport is chaotic but taxis are inexpensive. It is advisable to arrange for taxi transportation from the hotel and to book pick-ups in advance. Traffic in Lima is crazy and unpredictable so renting a car is not an option.
Last but not least, a word of wisdom on my favourite subject. Peruvian cuisine will amaze you! It is the best in Latin America and one of the best in the world. Your visit will not be complete if you don’t try ‘ceviche’, the Peruvian flag dish and our national drink, pisco sour.