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June 16, 2009 6:40 PM

Despite Economy, Gibson Dunn to Open Office in Brazil

Posted by Vivia Chen

Correction, 6/18 at 11:00 a.m.: In the third paragraph below, we say that Simpson Thacher's Brazil office never materialized. In fact,  the firm is in the process of finalizing its application to the Brazilian bar association, according to a spokesperson. The firm expects to officially open in Sao Paulo by September.

A year ago, no one would have blinked if a major U.S. firm like Gibson Dunn & Crutcher announced it was setting up shop in Sao Paulo.

In fact, last year Simpson Thacher & Bartlett announced with great fanfare that it was opening its first office in Brazil’s largest city, joining other American firms, including Proskauer Rose; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Mayer Brown.

Simpson’s Brazil office never materialized—a victim, perhaps, of the souring economy. Yet, despite Brazil’s economic woes (for first quarter 2009, Brazil experienced its sharpest quarterly decline in gross domestic product since 1996, BBC News reports), Gibson Dunn is opening its Sao Paulo office in a few weeks.

Gibson Dunn is jumping in now because Brazil is part of the firm’s long-term strategy, says corporate partner Lisa Alfaro, who’s preparing to move to Sao Paulo from New York in the next few weeks. “Even before this economic situation, we’ve been very active here.”

Despite Brazil’s economic troubles, Alfaro recently closed project finance and bio-fuel deals there and the firm is involved in four arbitrations involving Brazilian entities, she says.

One reason the venture may not be so risky is that it will be a very lean operation. Only Alfaro and an associate will be based in Sao Paulo with various teams of corporate and litigation lawyers rotating through for active matters.

Besides, Alfaro adds, the Brazilian market is still one with potential. European, Asian, and U.S. clients are interested in Brazil because it’s “one of the few places where you can get decent returns,” she says.

Though the Sao Paulo office is small and portable, Alfaro says her move is permanent, evident by the fact that her husband and twin eight-year old girls are coming with her.

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