Portugal: Special Focus: Africa 2017: Seeking New Markets

Last Updated: 18 August 2017
Article by Iberian Lawyer

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 the past year. However, he adds that there are still notable opportunities for Portuguese law firms in the Lusophone markets. Taking Mozambique as an example, he says that the political and economic outlook is now better than it was six months ago.

Avoiding duplication

Ferraz de Carvalho says that among the challenges facing law firms active in Angola and Mozambique, for example, is the need to have a detailed understanding of the markets their clients seek to invest in. By way of example, Ferraz de Carvalho argues that, the fact that a company has a presence in one African country does not mean they will have the necessary understanding of the dynamics of another country, even a neighbouring one. With regard to the input of Portuguese law firms in such markets, he argues that, given the sophistication of the Portuguese legal market, Lisbon law firms are able to add significant value to transactions in countries in Lusophone Africa. "The challenge for Portuguese firms is to find the right model, that is, how to combine their offering with international and local firms, and without creating inefficiencies and duplication," Ferraz de Carvalho says. "It is not easy, and clients are not always keen on having a multitude of law firms advising them." However, Ferraz de Carvalho says he expects African markets to continue to grow. "There will be more intra-African trade and investment, and more African consumer-related transactions in the future," he adds.

Despite the economic downturn affecting Angola and Mozambique – due to the decline in oil and commodities prices – law firms have largely managed to maintain a regular and stable flow of business. Rui Amendoeira, partner at VdA Vieira de Almeida in Lisbon, claims his firm's Africa practice recorded its strongest-ever growth rate in 2016. He adds that corporate restructuring and litigation-related work is expected to remain a major focus for the foreseeable future, while a rebound of activity in connection with infrastructure projects – especially in power generation and electrification – is also anticipated. With particular reference to Angola, oil firms and their subcontractors are expected to remain major purchasers of legal services in the coming years as they embark on new development projects.

Sharing risk

Amendoeira says he observes a trend for clients to demand alternative billing arrangements in which law firms are asked to "share some of client's risk of operating in these markets". He adds that this "forces firms to pay more attention to their fixed cost structure and to manage projects more efficiently".

While the lusophone countries are the main focus for Portuguese firms operating in Africa, a number of countries in the francophone/Central Africa region are emerging as interesting market opportunities for Portuguese firms, namely Gabon, Congo, the DRC, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. However, Amendoeira identifies two main challenges for clients operating in African markets: a lack of sufficiently skilled human resources, and a limited pool of reliable local partners. Some lawyers say that, when it comes to doing business in African markets, having a local partner is advisable, and even mandatory, in some circumstances and that the lack of such a partner is a key reason why many foreign investments in such markets fail.

World leader in energy?

Many multinationals see Mozambique, in particular, as a land of opportunity given its mineral resources and associated activities. Miguel Spínola, partner at PLMJ and head of the firm's Mozambique desk says the country is "making huge strides towards becoming one of the world's principal energy suppliers". He adds that, meanwhile, the country's agriculture, construction and public works, transport, communication and tourism sectors continue to grow.

Meanwhile, with regard to the Angolan market, law firms are reporting an increase in M&A activity related to restructuring projects, which is creating opportunities to advise the entities providing finance – similarly law firms are advising institutions financing infrastructure and agriculture projects in the country.

Spínola also sees Ghana as a market offering potential for law firms, given its political stability as well as the fact it is attracting investors operating in sectors that Portuguese law firms know well, such as construction and tourism. Meanwhile, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Principe are also markets that are becoming more attractive to foreign investors, lawyers say.

Lack of labour

A shortage of human resources is a major challenge in some African countries for law firms and their clients, according to Spínola. He explains that this is due to immigration rules that place limits on foreign workers. Meanwhile, investors also have to deal with infrastructure-related problems that impact on both power and the supply chain, as well as an abundance of 'red tape'. "An accurate assessment of the country risk is definitely one of the challenges," Spínola argues. "Clients need to allocate additional resources to the planning of the most critical items of an investment in Africa, such as the foreign exchange environment, as well as the well-known written and non-written local content rules."

The judicial systems in African countries also represent a significant obstacle for clients, according to Spínola. He says: "One of the biggest challenges for international law firms is to ensure they provide their international clients with effective support on the ground and with in-depth local knowledge of local law and local practices and customs."

The competition among law firms in African jurisdictions is intensifying, according to Nelson Raposo Bernardo, managing partner at Raposo Bernardo. He adds that this competition takes place in relation to many aspects of legal services, not just fees. "Competition is becoming noticeable in many aspects besides price – it is also noticeable in communication, cross-selling, local resources, IT capacity and the ability to offer new fee models of fees involving risk-sharing with clients," Bernardo explains.

Time limit

What may be of concern is Bernardo's prediction that any success Portuguese law firms have in francophone, or even anglophone, markets will be short-lived. "Any presence in other francophone or anglophone African countries can be related to medium-term projects, usually supported by some large oil and gas customers, but I do not think of them as projects that can survive in the long term, especially when we begin to feel the competition of law firms that have the same culture or a historical link," he says. "It is easy to understand that a large French law firm will be much more successful in a francophone African country than a Portuguese law firm – and the same in African countries with an anglophone or even Spanish influence – it will be a matter of time until the historical past, the connections of dozens of years in business, and often family connections, will eventually prevail."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions