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February 29, 2012 7:53 PM

Holland & Knight Bound for Bogotá

Posted by Claire Zillman

Eager to expand its Latin America practice, Miami-based Holland & Knight announced Wednesday that it will open a new office in Bogotá, Colombia. 

In launching the Bogotá outpost, Holland & Knight joins Baker & McKenzie as the only major law firm with U.S. roots to establish a physical presence in Colombia. Baker has had an office in the city for five decades, according to its Web site. London-based Norton Rose also has an office in Bogotá, which it established in 2010.

Holland & Knight's Bogotá office, which is scheduled to open in April, will begin operations with one partner and two associates devoted primarily to providing counsel to non-Colombian companies seeking to enter the local market. It will also advise Colombian companies on outbound work.

Gomez-Pinzon_Enrique_300Partner Enrique Gómez-Pinzón (left), who has worked out of Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C., office for nine years as part of the firm's international and cross-border transactions group, will head the Bogotá office. Gómez-Pinzón began his legal career in his native Colombia and has served as cofounder and director of the Colombian-Japanese Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Bogotá Stock Exchange board of directors, and director of the Colombian Trade Bureau in Washington, D.C., where he represented the Colombian government and various Colombian industries. 

The Bogotá location—Holland & Knight's second Latin American office; the other is in Mexico City—will serve as the newest outlet for the firm's 60-lawyer Latin America practice, which was formed in 1981. 

"We have been experiencing a lot of increased demand for work in Colombia," Gómez-Pinzón told The Am Law Daily in an interview Wednesday. Most of the growth, he says, has come from mergers and acquisitions, financings, and other corporate transactions. The firm expects that work to increase given the signing of the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that Congress passed last fall and the planned expansion of the Panama Canal.

Holland & Knight has been especially active handling matters connected to Colombia's hospitality, energy, and retail industries, as well as the coffee, coal, gold, oil, and gas industries, Gómez-Pinzón says. The firm has represented Drummond Ltd. in acquisitions and joint ventures in Colombia that expanded the company's operations and infrastructure rail and port projects. It has also advised Colombia-based multinational coffeehouse chain Juan Valdez Café on its growth in the U.S.

The firm, which recently represented transportation company Express del Futuro in financing two feeder systems that run into Bogotá's larger public transportation system, also hopes to get a slice of the infrastructure work likely to pop up in the coming years. Gómez-Pinzón says Colombia's current government has expressed a desire to invest more heavily in airport, port, and road construction as a way of increasing its competitiveness.

Sonberg_Steve_300In an interview earlier this month, Holland & Knight managing partner Steven Sonberg (right) gave the firm's Latin America practice partial credit for an encouraging financial performance in 2011. Specifically, Sonberg cited the firm's work with U.S., European, and Chinese companies interested in breaking into the region's transportation, construction, telecommunications, mineral exploration, and natural resources markets. (Holland & Knight saw its gross revenue climb 3 percent and its profits per partner rise 11 percent last year, according to our prior reporting.) 

"We've been looking at Colombia specifically for at least six months," Sonberg told The Am Law Daily Wednesday. "It really is a natural outgrowth of the Latin American practice that we’ve had for 30 years. We think the opportunities in Colombia will extend to other client opportunities around Latin America."

While Gómez-Pinzón says he believes the Bogotá operation could ultimately employ up to 25 or 30 lawyers, Sonberg expects the office to grow conservatively. The firm's goal is to add bilingual attorneys  licensed to practice in both Colombia and the U.S., and will hire lawyers holding only local licenses if they have received an LLM from a U.S. university, according to Gómez-Pinzón.

"We will continue to do what we’ve been doing for years, practicing U.S. law applicable to transactions that come along as well as providing services that are needed at a local level," he says.

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