Bonds & Loans: What are the main opportunities you are seeing emerge in Latin America for Winston & Strawn in the next 12 months?
Julissa Reynoso: As a litigator, I have a specific perspective here: we’ve seen an increasing amount of interest from Latin American clients and US multinationals in the region seeking help to ensure they comply with a host of regulatory matters and processes, in line with US laws, covering everything from anti-corruption measures to anti-money-laundering rules to sanctions compliance. These things have become a lot more relevant for major multilaterals and corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Bonds & Loans: How are you positioning yourself to take advantage of the declining credit quality in some key markets, such as Argentina and Brazil?
Julissa Reynoso: The silver lining here for us is that Winston & Strawn has a very nimble multilingual team of lawyers that can handle domestic issues in many of these countries, as well as highly experienced US-based lawyers. This combined skillset is very particular to our firm, and so clients are very comfortable working with us; we have already seen the results of having this Latin-American affinity in addition to decades worth of experience—in terms of high-profile cases we end up working on.
Experience, namely working in government, is also a very influential factor. For example, I have five and a half years of government work under my belt—I was employed by the US State Department, on the policy side. This means I am quite familiar with the various US agencies present in Latin America and have an in-depth knowledge of how they operate, including the norms and regulations that our clients have to be mindful of. Having people with this kind of federal government pedigree in the firm gives us an additional edge over our competitors
Bonds & Loans: Which sectors and countries do you have strategic focus on? What are the main drivers for your business in the region?
Julissa Reynoso: We’ve done a host of arbitrations on the continent, mainly involving the energy sector. This industry, particularly in places like Argentina, has made progress in modernizing its infrastructure and bringing in foreign investors. That experience brought about a lot of interest in energy companies in Argentina, which haven’t necessarily been involved in any arbitration as of yet, but are working diligently to establish contractual frameworks for any potential disputes that may arise later. And we have had several cases, representing energy companies involved in Latin America, as well as litigation work coming out of Argentina’s energy sector into the US legal space. The reforms in public-private laws passed by many countries in the region and the resulting increase in appetite for the sector from foreign investors have been encouraging. Although there has been a marked slowdown in economic activity over recent months in Argentina, we still believe that the reform momentum will create new opportunities for Winston going forward.
On a separate note, the Notebook scandal in Argentina, with alleged corruption schemes going all the way to the top of the previous government and the broad list of parties implicated, has raised demand for our services and experience in dealing with clients in cases involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, RICO laws and anti-money laundering. We’ve also seen interest from Argentinian companies seeking to strengthen their foothold in the US, whether in terms of financial or business services, to help them mitigate any risk of going into the US jurisdiction.
Bonds & Loans: With a number of state-wide infrastructure and transport initiatives, many involving both private and public sector, in full swing across a number of key markets, from Argentina to Peru to Mexico, do you expect areas like litigation and arbitration gain significance as the EM downturn bites?
Julissa Reynoso: A lot of contracts, especially involving foreign investors, have standard international dispute mechanisms embedded within. International disputes make up a huge chunk of overall activity in arbitration organizations like the ICC, and I don’t see the amount of that activity declining any time soon, because investors are more comfortable with using such international platforms to resolve localized conflicts. And as FDI volumes into the region increase and private-public partnerships become more commonplace, there will be increased need for neutral arbitration and even US-based litigation, which is going to create new opportunities for law firms like Winston & Strawn.
Bonds & Loans: Do you think that a full-blown bankruptcy crisis like we have seen with the likes of Argentina in the past, with the resulting multi-year stalemate, is less likely now that there are alternative routes for conflict resolution?
Julissa Reynoso: Investors and the international community are generally more knowledgeable and up to date now about specific cases and economies, so problems can be anticipated earlier. And in turn, the public in Argentina is also more informed about government policies, and the potential for the economy to prosper. The current government has taken steps to encourage capital inflows and improve productivity. It’s a work in progress and certainly some members of the public are critical of the government’s belt-tightening policies, which in the government’s view had to be implemented to compensate for past errors in governance. Like any transition of this sort, mistakes will be made, but the key is to stay on the path until the clouds clear.