Fly Me Down to Sao Paulo

A visiting lawyer’s guide to business, transportation, power – and food
By Marci Alboher, New York Lawyer, Summer 2001

Brazil brings to mind samba rhythms, thong bikinis, and sprawling beaches – all images from Rio, Brazil’s center of hedonism. But for lawyers, the action is more likely to be in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s center of business. Since 1995, when Brazil’s constitution was amended to remove foreign investment restrictions in certain economic sectors, foreign money has been pouring in; direct foreign investment in Brazil hit $30 billion last year, second only to China. Given Brazil’s status as one of the top emerging markets in the world, there is plenty of work for U.S. lawyers.

The Place

While Brazilians have a strong culture, Sao Paulo is a city built by immigrants, with huge communities of people descended from Italians, Japanese, Lebanese, and of course, Portuguese, all of whom have left their mark (the latter has left its language). International restaurants, bustling ethnic neighborhoods, and a diverse population may remind you of home. Small cars and motorcycles clog the avenues; charming colonial houses nestle up against soaring skyscrapers; and streets are lined with tropical plants and trees that thrive in Sao Paulo’s year-round temperate climate. Office space is state-of-the art; and once inside you could easily imagine you’re on Park Avenue. But the city’s 10 million inhabitants are spread over 500 square miles; and since there isn’t a downtown proper, a day’s worth of meetings could take you to the equivalent of New York’s outer boroughs. Because of this sprawl, the city can be so disorienting that even after several visits you may not recognize more than a few landmarks.

The Work

According to Peter Darrow, who runs the Latin America practice for Mayer, Brown and Platt, Brazilian lawyers “tend to be very industrious, fully bilingual, and very sophisticated.” Many U.S. lawyers involved in Brazil practice agree. Despite this reputation, working with Brazilian counsel is not always easy for American lawyers. One U.S. GC who has been guiding her company through a Brazilian joint venture says she has been disappointed with the style of Brazilian local counsel, even though she has been using only top firms with lawyers fluent in English. In her experience, it was not uncommon to have calls go unreturned for days. Even more frustrating was the frequency with which Brazilian counsel would issue an opinion on a matter and then revise it upon further reflection. She solved this problem by finding a young Brazilian lawyer spending time at a U.S. firm who was accustomed to a U.S. style of practice.

Marcio Baptista, who runs the New York office of Brazil’s Tozzini Freire Teixeira e Silva, explains that Brazilians are generally not as direct as Americans. “Their lack of directness,” he says, “is not intended to deceive or mislead, but is an attempt to avoid saying things that foreigners might not like to hear – basically they are trying to be polite.” His advice: make sure to involve a Brazilian lawyer familiar with international practice who can help you read between the lines. According to Baptista, local counsel is also crucial in light of the numerous legal differences between the two countries: “Tort law, for instance, does not exist in Brazil. The concept of damages is completely different. Labor laws are very particular and very protective of the employee.”

The Logistics

To get the visa a trip to Brazil requires, you’ll need a roundtrip ticket or confirmation of your flight and a passport having at least six months’ validity – plus a day for processing. You can get visa forms through the Brazilian consulate’s web site,

Safety is a real concern. It has become increasingly common for Paulistanos to get armored cars to combat holdups at traffic lights. According to Eduardo Sampaio, Brazil country manager for the risk consulting company, Kroll Associates, there is a high risk of random street crime (mostly pickpockets and robberies) at any time of the day, but hotels and public shopping malls are generally fairly safe. While many of his recommendations are familiar to street-smart New Yorkers (for example, don’t carry much cash) , one key difference is that taxis hailed from the street are a bad bet since drivers have been known to take advantage of tourists. Have your hotel call a taxi from a reputable service or a private car and driver for the duration of your stay (or, if you’re feeling particularly flush, follow Sao Paulo trend setters and book a helicopter; most major hotels have helipads on their roofs).

Since traffic can foil even the most well-planned itinerary, veteran travelers to Sao Paulo know to arrange no more than three or four meetings a day, with breakfasts and pre-dinner meetings at or near your hotel, if possible. Flying time from New York is about nine hours and many of the flights are overnight. So with only a one-hour time difference (3 hours during our winter), you lose little time traveling. Once you land, you’ll need to leave a few hours to get out of the airport and to your hotel. With an early morning arrival, you’ll probably not want to schedule any meetings until lunch. If your trip is only one day, most hotels offer a day rate so you can have a shower before your first meeting.

And then there’s the power issue. With more than 90 percent of Brazil’s energy base derived from hydroelectricity, a severe drought has the country praying for rain. In the meantime, rationing is being imposed on both individuals and businesses. One returning New Yorker noticed offices in Sao Paolo were conserving energy by: programming computers to turn off at the end of business; working by natural light or low wattage bulbs; and turning off lights upon leaving a room. Candlelight dining has become de rigueur. What this means for the future of Brazil’s beginning-to-thrive-again economy is too early to tell. What it means to you, if you’ve never been before, is that you’ll be greeted by a city with a slightly dark, vaguely ominous feel.

Where to Stay

The Intercontinental, Avenida Santos 1123, Jardins, Tel (11) 3179-2600. Centrally located near many traditional Brazilian businesses, banks, and law firms.

The Gran Melia, Avenida das Nacoes Unidas 12559, Brooklin, Tel (11) 3043-8000. A good choice and convenient location if your focus is on the new economy and hi-tech industries. The mall attached to the hotel houses the D&D Decoracao & Design Center as well as several restaurants and a food court, offering plenty of diversions if you’re traveling alone.

Renaissance Sao Paulo, Alameda Santos 2247, Jardins, Tel (11) 3069-2233. Centrally located for business and a few blocks from Rua Oscar Freire, a safe and ritzy enclave of upscale shops and restaurants.


One of the highlights of any visit to Sao Paulo is dining, a favored activity of Paulistanos. For drinks, there are three that will get you through an entire Brazilian day. Begin with a cafezinho, wickedly strong espresso best consumed standing at a bar. For an afternoon pick-me-up, try the local soft-drink, Guarana. It’s made from the eponymous Amazonian fruit and delivers a stronger-than-caffeine boost. After work, wind down with a few caipirinha’s, Brazil’s “lemonade” infused with sugar-cane alcohol. Dinner is late (9:30 or 10) and so may be your Brazilian dining companions since it’s entirely acceptable to arrive 20-30 minutes after the appointed hour for dinner (the same rule does not apply to business meetings, for which Brazilians are fairly punctual). A 10 percent gratuity is often included in restaurant bills, but you may want to leave a small tip as well. If you tip by New York standards, you’ll be revered.

Fasano, Rua Haddock Lobo, 1644, Tel (11) 3062-4000. Up-market Italian where the suits go to see and be seen. Perfect for impressing a client.

Bar des Arts, Rua Pedro Humberto, 09 Itaim Bibi, Tel (11) 3849-7828. Finish up your negotiations over a drink and hors d’oeuvres in the delightful garden courtyard. In the still male-dominated business culture, the courtyard’s flower-stand does a brisk business with those picking up flowers on their way home from happy-hour.

Jardineira Grill, Avenida dos Bandeirantes, 1001, Vila Olimpia, (11) 3845-0299. No trip to Brazil is complete without a meal at a typical barbecue (churrasco) featuring a seemingly endless parade of different meats (they’ll serve until you turn the red light/green light card on your table to the red position).

Il Nuovo Sogno di Anarello, Rua il Sogno di Anarello, 58, (11) 5575-4266. You’ve closed the deal and are ready to celebrate. Ask a local to take you to this family-style Italian and have the owner/chef serve you whatever’s fresh that day.

Arabia, Rua Haddock Lobo, 1397, Tel (11) 3064-4776. In a city with a strong Lebanese influence, Arabic food is as ubiquitous as Chinese in New York. Take a break from a drafting session and bring the group to indulge in a feast of shared plates.

Gino, Rua Joao Lourenco, 610 Vila Nova Conceicao, Tel (11) 3842-2998. Homesick for the Upper East Side? Visit the venerable NY landmark’s only other outpost – they’ve even gone with the same zebra patterned wallpaper.


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