Paulo Rocha is Managing Partner of major Brazilian full-service firm, Demarest Advogados. In this feature interview, Mr. Rocha discusses his key challenges and lessons as the firm’s managing partner, the impacts of Covid-19 on the Brazilian legal market and the growing importance of an ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) agenda in the country, amongst other topics.
Leaders League. With over 70 years in the legal market, Demarest Advogados is one of Brazil’s most renowned law firms. What are the main challenges of serving as the managing partner of a major full-service firm in Brazil? What key lessons have you learned in this position?
Paulo Rocha. First and foremost, there must be a focus on continued improvement and an unrelenting commitment to quality. Also, as with any large organization, communication is very important. We bring together nearly 300 highly talented lawyers who are spread across very different practice areas, in addition to a further 140 fee earners and approximately 110 staff members, all based in four different cities. As a result, we work resolutely to ensure proper and efficient communication, both inbound and outbound, so that we may offer our clients the best of our collective intelligence and get the right messages across. Conversely, anyone in a position of leadership has to make the time to listen to people, and that is something I try to do as much as possible. Good ideas and constructive feedback are extremely important, so keeping an always-open approach to communication channels is essential.
Which key measures were implemented at Demarest Advogados during the pandemic and which were most successful? In your opinion, what key lessons should be taken away from this period?
At Demarest we have always invested a great deal in technology. In fact, this has earned us “business case” status from Microsoft, Dell, Avaya and SAP, among other top-tier technology companies. So, when the pandemic hit and we had to shift gears and adapt, for the first time, to a 100% “home office mode”, we were prepared and our services did not suffer any disruption. From an organizational angle, we were also the first large firm in Brazil to announce, in August, that we would not be returning to the office at least until January 2021. Our teams were happy and relieved with the announcement, given the uncertainty that still surrounds a return to the workplace. Of course, the firm continues to provide our workforce with full support in terms of equipment for their work at home, such as computers, desks, chairs and office supplies, as well as psychological support, such as online yoga sessions, non-legal webinars and even a psychology hotline with independent professionals. Most importantly, however, we reacted swiftly to our clients’ needs and concerns by assembling multisectoral working groups which could provide, across a wide-ranging perspective, tailored and creative solutions for the unforeseen challenges brought on by the pandemic. We continue to maintain a very close contact and relationship with our clients, helping them to navigate these difficult times. There are many lessons to be taken away from this period, both on a professional and personal level, and as a firm, we have emerged stronger because of it and will continue to apply these lessons in our professional and personal lives.
Has 2020 been a key year for the development of an ESG agenda in Brazil? If so, why? Could you tell us about the existing ESG initiatives at the firm?
Truth be told, ESG has been around for some time. Obviously, this is a subject that typically sparks discussions within more sophisticated and progressive corporations and later spreads to the wider market. At Demarest, we have an active ESG internal alignment – “E”, aligning our strategic and financial goals with a commitment to sustainability such as carbon reduction policies through the implementation of paperless programs, etc; “S”, via our Corporate Social Responsibility programs which are highly valued by our clients; and lastly, “G”, visible in the configuration of our firm’s partnership which is based on transparency, professionalism and accountability, the key elements which guide our governance.
However, it is also true that there is a global trend which has not gone unnoticed and which explains why we are seeing several different players advertising their ESG practices to gain visibility. At Demarest we have traditionally praised the relevance and importance of environmental matters, having been the first full service law firm to have an Environmental practice, and for years have been assisting clients in all types of ESG project implementation — from the verification of score-checking in accordance with the best international practices and guidelines, to advising on positive impact investments and adapting internal policies with sustainability goals. Our Due Diligence practice has also included within its ordinary due diligence routines a basic score-checking review and we are now working with select business partners to provide integrated and global advice to tackle and implement ESG projects from a multifaceted and comprehensive approach.
How has the Brazilian legal market been affected and transformed by the pandemic? Which key new trends would you highlight?
The Brazilian legal market in general was more affected during the first two months of the pandemic, however, following this period, most practice areas picked up the pace again, especially Bankruptcy, Restructuring, Capital Markets and M&A, which is particularly benefiting from distressed targets.
What new initiatives can we expect from Demarest Advogados over the next 12 months?
We are coming to the end of our current 5-year business plan and about to approve our next 3-year business plan. While we cannot get into specifics yet, it is fair to assume the new plan will focus on innovation and even greater use of technology in some key areas. We remain committed to our ongoing pursuit of improved quality, reinventing our processes and finding the best ways to serve our clients whilst contributing to the enhancement of the business environment in Brazil.