Former tax manager at PwC Brasil Bruno Sartori Barbosa returns to private practice as a founding partner at rebranded firm Souza, Mello e Torres. He tells LACCA how his time as in-house counsel was eye-opening and strengthened his skills as a tax lawyer.
Bruno Sartori Barbosa joined Souza, Mello e Torres as head of the firm’s tax practice last month, after spending almost two years in in-house in roles at PwC Brasil and manufacturing company GE Transportation between 2016 and 2018.
Speaking of his decision to return to private practice, Sartori explains that he wants to be part of the transformation currently taking place in the legal world within the framework of a law firm. “The legal market is undergoing a profound change as the digital economy continues to break paradigms and change the way we interact,” he says. “The idea of having a lean and efficient structure, with a partner-centric approach, was decisive for me…together with my experienced and highly skilled partners, I want to be a part of this transformation,” he says.
Sartori’s areas of expertise span tax, litigation and consulting. Before joining PwC, he spent time working as a senior tax advisor at GE Transportation. He first began his legal career in private practice as an intern at Botelho Advogados, later becoming a lawyer at Azevedo Sette Advogados. He also spent time working as tax manager at Bernardes & Advogados Associados.
After starting his career in private practice, Sartori says he felt it was important to learn first-hand how businesses, especially multinational enterprises, deal with complex tax matters alongside other activities; so, he decided to switch to an in-house role. “I longed to work inside a company and learn what the CEO, CFO and COO expect from tax professionals,” he notes. GE Transportation’s headquarters were in Chicago, and Sartori points out that working closely with global tax directors in both Brazil and the US was greatly beneficial to him. “It gave me valuable insights on how to approach Brazil’s intricate tax system and the implementation of tax compliance,” he says.
Shedding light on the importance of tax compliance was one of Sartori’s most difficult tasks while working as an in-house counsel. “One of my biggest challenges was to raise awareness and accountability [of tax compliance],” he says. The solution to this problem required a multi-pronged approach: “Understanding the business’ goals and the structure of each deal was important to foresee opportunity and risks; openly discussing tax compliance with other teams was also decisive; a continuous, friendly approach was key,” he says.
Spending time in-house enhances a lawyer’s abilities in other ways, and undoubtedly helps them to understand further what a client’s needs are, according to Sartori, who believes that a lawyer who has spent time in both the corporate as well as the legal sphere is more efficient and assertive. “A thorough understanding of the client’s activity and a clear perception of the business needs are valuable tools,” he says. Such an in-depth perception, Sartori adds, helps private practice lawyers with in-house experience to better pursue opportunities and manage risks in accordance with their clients’ needs.
Time spent in-house has also helped Sartori understand the importance of fostering a strong sense of cooperation between different departments within a company, namely between tax, legal, commercial and operations, to create long-term and sustainable growth. When raising awareness of the importance of tax compliance in his former in-house positions, creating a sense of partnership between all team members was important to Sartori. Such strong partnerships are something the firm Souza, Mello e Torres hopes to cultivate with its own clients as it continues to build a dynamic law firm with lawyers from different backgrounds, with different skills and experiences. Sartori believes the legal market is undergoing a transformation whereby legal services and relationships with clients are becoming more personal, which tends to favour more involvement from partners. “By means of employing a partner-centric approach, we intend to work closely with our clients, understand their true needs and build solid partnerships. Partners will not only lead but actively participate in the daily affairs, offering a personalised practice with great efficiency,” he says.
Souza Mello rebranded in April from Rolim de Mello – Sociedade de Advogados, following the addition of Clovis Torres and Luis Souza, former name partner at Cescon, Barrieu, Flesch & Barreto Advogados.