Thacher Proffitt & Wood, a leading global law firm, has taken steps to beef up its Latin American division in an effort to keep on top of the growing structured finance markets in the region, sources at the firm said.
With offices in various locations throughout the U.S. and an affiliate office in Mexico City, Thacher has approximately 200 lawyers on staff. In the past year-and-a-half, the firm has expanded its Latin American department with the addition of five new partners (two partners in New York and three partners in the Mexico office) - doubling its attention to the capital markets south of the border. "That's a very, very significant investment for this firm," said Jeffrey Stern, a New York-based partner with Thacher's Latin American practice group. "We feel that we are well positioned to participate in and to facilitate the development and expansion of securitization in the Latin American markets for our clients."
In part, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NATO) and the Mercado Comun del Sur (the common market of the South - MERCOSUR) trade agreement have facilitated Thacher's uptick in business throughout the region, as an increased number of clients are now searching for counsel on legal and business issues pertaining to their operations, the company's Web site said.
According to Allen Moreland, also a partner with Thacher, the law firm has taken steps to expand the Latin American practice as a result of the increasing number of structured transactions coming out of the region. "The growth in transaction volume in this area has a number of sources - part of it is that in Latin America, securitizations are the types of deals that are going to get done,'" Moreland said. "Growth in securitization has also been driven by the weakness of more-traditional financing markets, due to issues with credit, politics and currency risk. Unstructured deals are more difficult at this point in time, and this has led us to focus our efforts on assisting companies and governments in the region to raise capital through securitization."
Three years ago, there were five partners (and about a dozen associates) in the Latin American practice group, with the principal Mexican partner, Boris Otto, stationed in the Mexico City office. Otto worked alongside four other partners in the New York office, including Stern, Oliver Armas, Joel Harris, and Stephen Kudenholdt. Moreland came on board about a year-and-a-half ago, and while he deals with Latin America as a whole, having closed numerous financings (including many securitizations) across the region, his primary focus has generally been on Brazil.
Walter Van Dorn, a cross-border public equity and debt specialist, also joined the team in 2000 to cover ADRs and GDRs as well as public sovereign and corporate debt issuances. In 2001, Miguel Angel Quintana (one of the region's leading attorneys for the energy sector, who recently served as outside counsel to the energy transition team of President Vicente Fox) joined the firm as a partner in the Mexico City office, specializing in corporate, energy and administrative law. Eduardo Ramos-Gmez, a prominent Mexican law practitioner with a cross-border corporate and transactional practice, also joined Thacher this year as a partner in the Latin America practice, based primarily in Thacher's New York City offices. Most recently, the Firm has added its tenth partner to the Latin American practice, Jorge De Presno, one of Mexico's top labor attorneys, in order to support Thacher's corporate and foreign investment practices in Mexico.
American trained team
"Thacher has a long tradition as one of the leading firms in the area of securitization and structured finance," said Stern. "Our expansion into Central and South America is a natural growth of this practice base." Thacher has been working in that region for quite a number of years and has been working to develop a reputation both as experienced practitioners in the Latin capital markets and as one of the only law firms that can offer truly "seamless" U.S. and Latin American services.
"The Thacher difference is. . . the U.S. attorneys and the Mexican attorneys are a very close-knit group - we have established Mexican partners that operate out of New York - we rotate all of our senior Mexican associates through our New York offices for at least a full year of U.S. legal practice and training and we almost always have one or more of our American attorneys in Mexico," Stern said. "We have partners and associates that know and like each other, that understand each other's practices, and that provide a team of attorneys here and in Mexico with substantial securitization and capital markets expertise. Using that model, we have expanded our long-standing roots as a securitization and finance practice across Central and South America."
The company as a whole
Thacher Proffitt & Wood is a global firm that covers a wide range of areas including corporate and financial institutions law, structured finance, swaps and derivatives, cross-border transactions, global finance, real estate, insurance, admiralty and ship finance, litigation and dispute resolution, technology and intellectual property, taxation, trusts and estates, bankruptcy, reorganizations and restructurings. The firm's U.S. team recently named David S. Hall, Erik D. Klingenberg and Richard D. Simonds, Jr. as partners in its New York City office, the first new partners from within the firm's associate ranks since Sept. 11.
In the works
According to the Web site, the firm is currently working on a $100 million securitization of residential mortgages in El Salvador. In Mexico, the firm is handling a $700 million securitization of loans, and in Brazil, Thacher is representing one of the world's largest tin producers in a $90 million securitization of tin export receivables. In addition to these transactions, the team is also currently working on projects in Beliz, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
"Our goal is to present to our clients fully-integrated U.S. and Latin American legal services, so that when clients work with Thacher, they don't feel as though they are dealing with an American attorney or a Mexican attorney, per se - they feel that they are dealing with a single firm, one where the people and the standards of quality and presentation are unified," said Stern. "That is our goal for providing services for the capital markets across Latin America, and I think we truly are well on the way to achieving it."