thursday, 6 november of 2014

BKBG hires former Comgás GC to launch energy practice

Barretto Ferreira e Brancher has recruited the former general counsel of São Paulo gas distributor Comgás to head up a new energy practice, opened in response to increased work the firm believes will come from the massive investment Brazil will need to solve its energy crisis.

Leonardo Lerner, 63, joined the firm last month as a senior consultant, but his appointment was not made public until today. He left his general counsel position at Comgás last year, having joined the company in 2000, upon which he began talking with BKBG founding partner Ricardo Barretto about a possible collaboration.

BKBG launched the energy practice ahead of an increase in deal flow it expects to result from the government’s increased use of public private partnerships at federal and state level to fund infrastructure projects in the energy sector. Barretto says he expects the new practice to attract clients from the oil and gas, electricity, biodiesel and renewables sectors: “Brazil faces a serious energy crisis that will force the improvement of its physical and legal infrastructure in the areas of energy exploration and production, generation, transmission, and distribution – increasing the demand for highly skilled legal services.”

Lerner is currently the only lawyer in BKBG’s energy practice, although he draws on members of the firm’s other practice groups, including regulatory and public law; corporate and M&A; tax; and environment. Barretto says the firm plans to add additional energy lawyers, including foreign legal consultants, and are speaking to potential candidates.

Over a 40-year legal career, Lerner’s previous roles include stints as general counsel at heavy machinery manufacturer ABB, and as part of the in-house team at aircraft manufacturer Embraer. He believes the experience he has gained from these positions will be an asset in his new role. “My view of the legal profession is that you have to combine technical qualifications with experience, in order to be fully prepared to respond to your clients’ expectations,” he explains.

When it came to choosing someone to spearhead the new department, Barretto says Lerner was an obvious choice, due to a combination of the experience he has gleaned in the energy sector during his in-house career, and the pair’s long friendship that began at law school in the 1970s.

Brazil’s energy crisis is a result of the country’s over-reliance on hydropower, its resources of which have been badly depleted by years of low rainfall, but has been exacerbated by government policies to lower consumer energy tariffs, leaving companies struggling to pay operational costs. The shortage has prompted lawyers to recommend the country diversify away from the unreliable hydropower resources it has traditionally relied upon. Last week, Brazilian electricity regulator Aneel awarded construction contracts for more than 30 solar plants, following Brazil’s first solar auction, indicating this may be starting to happen.

Over the last year, BKBG has appointed two new partners, promoting international trade lawyers Luiz Eduardo Salles and Marina Carvalho.

(Published by Latin Lawyer – November 6, 2014)

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