A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

Panama 2017 | EXECUTIVE GUIDE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alvaro J. Aguilar-Alfu, Partner at Lombardi Aguilar Group, on the growing demand for legal advice from international players coming from around the globe to Panama.

Alvaro J. Aguilar-Alfu
BIOGRAPHY
Alvaro J. Aguilar-Alfu graduated from the University Santa Maria La Antigue with a degree in law and political science, going on to obtain a master’s in international legal studies from the Washington College of Law, American University. After working as a legal assistant with a Panama business law firm, he served as an administrative intern of the Administrative Tribunal of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. He later worked as an attorney with a Panama commercial law firm. He is a Partner at Lombardi Aguilar Group.

Could you describe the evolution of Lombardi Aguilar Group?

My partner Jorge Lombardi and I founded the law firm in 2006. We decided to set it up as a result of the investment boom in Panama at the beginning of 2000. There was a demand from foreign clients for more specific and bespoken advice when they entered Panama as direct investors. Usually, major law firms assisted with the formation of investment vehicles; however, there was a demand from clients for more specific advice when entering Panama. Sourcing talent is competitive in our field of work. Unfortunately, there is a lack of training programs for paralegal and law office management here in Panama. This is a market that private educational programs could capitalize on and benefit from the growth of the sector in order to make it more competitive compared to some of our rivals in the Caribbean and Europe. About 95% of our clients are from abroad. Around 20% of our clients are from the US and Canada. Another 30-40% are from Europe, the Middle East and the CIS, while the rest are from Latin America, specifically Venezuela and Central America. The services that are most frequently in demand are the formations of a corporate structure or deciding to set up a branch in Panama. Those are then followed by assistance in contracts for real estate, labor, as well as taxation issues.

How do you position Lombardi Aguilar Group as a key asset for international investors?

Unlike most local law firms, the founders of Lombardi Aguilar Group have an immigrant background. We are always aware of the perspective of the foreigner and try to find the best from Panama. We help clients avoid the pitfalls that have discouraged others. I am of Chinese descent on my mother's side while my partner is of Italian descent and we also belong to an international network of law firms that originally started in the GCC and Central Asia regions. That also gives us an advantage in assisting investors from regions that are traditionally not served by other Panamanian law firms.

What is your vision for the law firm for the short and medium term, especially in light of growing competition in the local market?

Our vision involves a two-pronged strategy. In the area of HR and talent formation, we have an internship program both with young lawyers as well as college students from Europe and the US. These interns seek exposure to the Panamanian business environment, Panama being one of the well-known emerging markets. On the other hand, we want to provide our local staff with an opportunity to be exposed to different ways of thinking and encourage diversity in beliefs among our staff. The other part of our strategy is working with groups, such as foreign bar associations and other international lawyer associations, in order to make presentations on how Panama compares to other jurisdictions. It is part of our strategy to become part of networks and new alliances with international firm associations. Because of greater regulations worldwide, there is a change in the market composition. There is an increase from countries in Latin America, in addition to the Far East. At this moment, though, it is still an evolving process.

What targets and ambitions have you set for 2017?

This year we have set a target to increase the number of jurisdictions in which we can provide investment solutions. This means obtaining what is called a company management license in the British West Indies jurisdiction. We also plan to further promote options in Panama for regulated entities, which can be available for public fundraising such as hedge funds and investment funds, rather than the usual unregulated company. We have to continue with training for our staff, not only in traditional legal areas, but also in the new transparency regulations for anti-money laundering and account record keeping, which Panama is becoming engaged in.