Top Portuguese M&A lawyer opens up over strategy dispute as he quits CS Associados for Vieira de Almeida

Francisco Sá Carneiro leaves the firm he helped found 12 years ago as it heralds 'a new cycle and generational transition'

Francisco Sá Carneiro Image courtesy of Vieira de Almeida

Top Portuguese corporate lawyer Francisco Sá Carneiro has revealed that he quit the firm he co-founded – Campos Ferreira Sá Carneiro & Associados (CS Associados)  – over strategy differences.
Sá Carneiro, who this week joins Vieira de Almeida (VdA), outlined his reasons for leaving the firm he co-founded 12 years ago in a circular to clients and contacts on Monday, his last day at the firm.
In the circular, he said his ‘incredible journey’ at the firm had come to an end because while 'projects evolve and mature' he was ‘unwilling to participate’ in a new strategy he believed would see ‘the firm lose some of the core values and main characteristics which have unquestionably led to its success’.
News of his departure last October – along with another co-founder, Fernando Campos Ferreira, who retired – took Portugal’s tight-knit legal market by surprise given the success of the firm, which has highly-rated banking and finance, corporate, M&A and capital markets practices.

While Sá Carneiro did not go into details about the precise nature of the strategy differences, he underlined the firm’s low leverage ratio and egalitarian leadership structure that from the outset eschewed a managing partner. He also pointed out that the firm had grown to 14 partners and more than 50 fee earners since it was founded.

In a statement, CS Associados said it was ‘at a natural turning point with a new cycle and generational transition, which Francisco Sá Carneiro decided not to follow by choice’.

The firm added it was ‘confident in the talent and cohesion that we have in our firm to continue to grow and to respond to our clients' increasingly demanding challenges, while remaining true to the principles of close relationships with our clients and of parity: we are a firm of equals, where all partners own the business’.

The firm pointed to the arrival of partner Mafalda Ferreira earlier this month from DLA Piper’s Portuguese arm, DLA Piper ABBC, to lead the energy and sustainability practice groups and strengthen the firm’s public law and projects offering.

The departures of Sá Carneiro and Ferreira means that four founding partners remain at CS Associados – Maria Castelos, Martim Morgado, Duarte Brito de Goes and Bernardo Abreu Mota. The firm was founded in 2009 with corporate, capital markets, finance and tax practices, though with internal promotions and lateral hires has since added litigation, labour, real estate, public, criminal and regulatory, competition and IP practices to grow into a fuller-service boutique. 

As of yesterday, Sá Carneiro is a partner in VdA’s corporate and M&A group. He has been practising for more than 35 years and specialises in M&A finance-related transactions, regularly advising banks on large acquisitions of share capital. 

João Vieira de Almeida, VdA senior partner, described Sá Carneiro as “one of the most renowned Portuguese transactional lawyers,” adding that his arrival “reinforces a core area of the firm which already boasts enormous talent and a unique track record in mergers and acquisitions in Portugal."

The transition of successful founder-led firms away from rainmakers who must inevitably bow out at some stage is an age-old challenge.

Boies Schiller Flexner’s ongoing efforts to usher in new leadership to succeed iconic chair David Boies remain ongoing and have taken place against the backdrop of a succession of management changes and departures.

International firms that have publicly announced transition to the next generation include Nigeria's Aluko & Oyebode, whose co-founder Gbenga Oyebode – a leading Nigerian business figure in his own right – stepped down as chair in January last year, ushering in a new leadership team, and China's JunHe, whose founder Xiao Wei bowed out as managing partner in October 2020.

Sá Carneiro did not respond to approaches for comment.

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