Legal Marketing in Latin America: An Interview

One of the great things about the Legal Marketing Association Annual conference is that it brings together people from diverse, global backgrounds. This year, we were fortunate to meet Gonzalo Robles, a Marketing & Business Developer with the firm Galindo, Arias & Lopez in Panama. With more and more large law firms focusing on Latin America, it was interesting to get his perspective on the market. We decided to follow up with him to learn more about legal and marketing in Panama and Latin America.

One North

How did you get started in legal marketing?
I have always been interested in developing a career in law on an international level. In order to compete in a global scale as a well-rounded attorney, I felt compelled to be subject to the same kind of academic preparation as a U.S.-trained lawyer, while still being Panama-focused. Hence, instead of going straight into Law School in Panama, (here we do not need a Bachelor’s degree before Law School), I decided to get a dual degree in Economics and IR at a U.S. school before obtaining an LL.B. (which I have yet to obtain).

When I applied with the firm, my original goal was to join as a paralegal. Legal marketing is relatively new in Panama, and it is very difficult to find someone who is interested in marketing, but still understands the world of law. Although my original intentions were to join the firm as a paralegal, the firm saw my background in economics and decided to bring me on for marketing and business development. The decision was a no-brainer.

What factors help determine the reputation of firms in Latin America?
The reputation of firms in Latin America is determined by the quality of the lawyers, the caliber of its clients and the transactions in which they have been involved. All of the best law firms have lawyers who either are trained in, or have received postgraduate degrees from, the U.S. or the EU. Whereas attorneys that have been solely trained in Latin American countries cater to a traditional audience in a “legal-ish” mode, those who have received an LLM from abroad are able to communicate effectively in the business world. This second type of lawyers is able to attract a diverse, international clientele, which in turn allows them to be exposed to matters that are more intricate and require innovation as a key component of the legal counsel.

As the legal market expands in Latin and South America, how have clients reacted to more global firms opening local offices in your market?
Global law firms have not had as much growth in Panama, rather they have a greater presence in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, which are three of the huge Latin American economies. Global firms that have been establishing in Latin America have an advantage over new Latin American law firms because they have followed their clients into the Latin American market. That is, AmLaw firm clients have been expanding their operations into the Latin American market for a while now, and AmLaw firms have just decided to follow them. This means that AmLaw firms have come into the market with a developed client base, and therefore have become strong competitors for local law firms.

Nonetheless, I do believe that one area they struggle with is litigation and dispute resolution. The native firms not only have a better understanding of the process, courts and proceedings, but also existing relationships with judges. These circumstances make dispute resolution a tough terrain to compete in for international law firms.

What types of cultural mistakes or misunderstandings do you see non-native firms make when speaking to Latin American clients?
The first thing AmLaw firms need to do is break the language barrier. When marketing to a Latin American audience, all materials must be both, in English and in Spanish. Coherently, if they are choosing Brazil as their starting point (which many do), then everything needs to be in English and Portuguese.

If you take a look at many AmLaw 100 websites, you will see that not all of them have their content available in other languages besides English. This is something you will never see a local firm do.

Another cultural mistake you might see a non-native firm do is relying heavily on non-personal forms of communication for marketing purposes. The Latin American culture is one that is largely based on personal relationships, especially in a country as small as Panama. Therefore, clients expect a high level of personal contact. They engage with lawyers and constantly meet with them outside of office. For this reason, less personal communications such as newsletters do not work well.

How does the marketing team engage clients?
We try to be involved in a wide range of thought-leadership associations, at a national and international level. This gives us an opportunity to be on top of market developments and deliver value in every interaction with our clients. Our aim is that these interactions occur personally and on a recurring basis. Also, sharing membership with our clients allows us to establish strong connections with them.

On a non-personal basis, we try to employ the concept of content marketing widely by sending legal briefings and alerts that are pertinent to a particular client’s area of focus.

How do people communicate through social media (such as LinkedIn or Twitter)? Are there other networks that are uniquely Latin / South American?
General use of social media is widely spread, and I would say there is no difference with the U.S. in this regard. However, within the legal market, social media usage is a newer trend in Latin America, and is primarily based on following the U.S. trend. Lawyers are usually more active on LinkedIn and Twitter, in that order.

Many of our lawyers, however, struggle to see the value of leveraging social media. We need to help them understand the importance of building a presence in these networks, so that they are able to take advantage of this media of global interaction.

What are your sources for legal insights? Who does a good job of providing information that your clients pay attention to (legal or otherwise)?
Rankings and international directories do a good job at providing legal insights for the Latin American market, especially Latin Lawyer 250, Chambers, IFLR1000 and Legal 500. I know that clients indeed pay close attention to ranking results, although these are not the sole deciding factor when choosing a law firm to work with.

Many Latin American countries, Panama included, do not have publications similar to the National Law Journal; hence, our clients rely heavily on regular local news sources. Whenever they need to look for legal market news, magazines such as Latin Lawyer and International Financial Law Review do a good job.

In what context would you market to an audience in Spanish vs. English? How important is it for the firm to have translated content in multiple languages?
All of our content must be both in English and in Spanish. If the information is only in one of these languages, we consider it incomplete. The language presented first depends on the medium used or the content of the communication. For example, our website, which is open to a global audience, is set to English; nonetheless, the visitor does have the option of choosing Spanish. In other contexts, it makes sense to lead in Spanish; for example, when you are sending a legal alert for the dispute resolution practice group. For all other materials, we have a version in English and one in Spanish, which we select according to the specific client or prospect.

What devices are most prevalent? iPhones, Android, flip-phones, laptops, etc.?
Almost everyone works on a laptop. Mobile devices are similar to the U.S. in that we prominently see iPhones, iPads and Samsung tablets. There is almost no difference in the use of these devices, when compared to the U.S. market.

What was the most interesting thing you learned at LMA 2015?
LMA 2015 taught me that legal marketing is much more than logos, websites and brochures. The legal marketing world has been growing at a very fast pace. Whereas marketing communications take the highest percentage of time from marketing staff in Latin America, legal marketers in the U.S. focus heavily on BD and CI.

Marketing is still at its beginning stages in Panama. We struggle heavily with marketing departments leading business development and trying to become more involved. LMA gave me the opportunity to build strong relationships with colleagues in Latin America, and I could see that the struggle was generalized, but being exposed to thought leadership has given us the tools to change the status quo.

Sessions and themes that stood out to me:

  • I enjoyed the ‘15 people will make or break your year’. It highlighted the need to create BD plans that have a direct effect on revenue growth.
  • Managing the brand experience. People think that the brand is just the logo, the color, etc. They are wrong. The brand is what sets us apart; that which helps us to be distinguished; that by which our clients remember us. The brand experience is defined by our core firm values, and the way in which these are present in every interaction with our clients. This experience sets an excellent firm apart.

If I had 1 day in Panama City, what is one place I see and a meal I must eat?
The place you should go: the Panama Canal. 

The meal you should eat: Panamanian breakfast (tortillas, hojaldres, carimañolas, lechona, etc.).

Learn more about Gonzalo on LinkedIn here.

Want to read more of our insights and takeaways from LMA15? See them all here.


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Mike Weisert

At the time of publishing, Mike was a Senior Strategist at One North.

Akhilesh Pant Strategist

At the time of publishing, Akhilesh was a Strategist at One North.

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