Though their main focus has traditionally been on oil-related work in lusophone Africa, Portuguese law firms are beginning to strengthen their African corporate restructuring and litigation practices - opportunities are also emerging in francophone Africa, but these may be short-lived
While Angola and Mozambique have suffered downturns in their economies due to falling oil prices, alternative sources of revenue have emerged for law firms. Portuguese lawyers with expertise in African markets highlight, for example, a rise in corporate restructuring work as well as an increase in contentious matters. Throw in the return of some significant infrastructure work - particularly in the energy sector - and the picture is not looking quite as bleak for law firms operating in Africa as some may have thought. In addition, lawyers also cite new opportunities in countries such as Gabon, Congo, the DRC, Cameroon and Ivory Coast as reasons for further optimism. However, some lawyers warn that any success Portuguese law firms experience in the Francophone/Central Africa region will be short-lived.
Opportunities for Portuguese law firms have been bolstered by the fact that oil-rich Angola is now making significant investments in Portugal, creating an in-bound flow of capital to the former colonial power - a scenario that proved to be particularly beneficial to Portugal during a period in which it was mired in, and then emerged from, the euro-debt crisis.
Angola is the only African country in which outbound investment surpasses the amount of inbound capital - the country's investment in Portugal alone totalled 1.5 billion in 2014, according to figures from the Bank of Portugal. And the two countries' relationship is symbiotic, with affluent Angolans travelling to Portugal for tourism and shopping, while Portuguese workers, keen to escape the unemployment and austerity back home, head for Angola to take advantage of job opportunities as the southern African nation invests in infrastructure projects.
The level of Portuguese investment in Angola remains significant, while in addition, it is Portugal's fourth-largest export market, with sales of around 3 billion per year.
According to Francisco Ferraz de Carvalho, partner and head of banking and projects at Linklaters in Lisbon, and a member of the firm's Africa desk and global infrastructure and energy group, there have been significant differences in the way individual markets in Africa have behaved during...