Steptoe & Johnson announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Brazilian lawyer and consultant Fernando Quintana Merino in an effort to grow its operations in the country and across Latin America.

Merino, the former Brazilian general counsel for financial services giant Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., will continue to run his own São Paulo-based consulting firm, 4M Consultoria e Empreendimentos Ltda., until all U.S. immigration processes are completed. He will then join the firm as a partner at Steptoe in Washington, D.C.

“Steptoe has a great reputation and I think that the platform, in terms of the business they have, fits very well with the opportunities that I think Brazil will generate,” said Merino, a former associate at Allen & Overy, Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Once the fastest-growing economy in the world, Brazil was hit by an economic downturn in 2014 when the country went into a recession. This economic crisis, coupled with a series of corruption cases, like the ongoing Operation Car Wash corruption investigation, and political scandals have driven up the demand for legal services, especially within the areas of investigations and enforcement work, areas in which Steptoe & Johnson hopes to expand.

Fernando Merino

“We are trying and hoping to increase our activity in the areas of compliance, investigations, white-collar and disputes,” said Merino, who has previously done work with Steptoe & Johnson. He has spent most of his legal career heading the in-house legal departments at some of Brazil’s largest corporations and financial institutions.

After joining London-based Allen & Overy in 1995, Merino returned to his native Brazil two years later to become associate counsel at CSFB Garantia, a subsidiary of global financial services giant Credit Suisse AG. After five years at the Brazilian investment bank, Merino joined JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s São Paulo office as its Brazilian general counsel before heading to Merrill Lynch in 2006.

In 2008, Merino became group general counsel at Companhia Siderurgica Nacional, the largest integrated steel-maker in Brazil, where he remained for nearly six years. In 2014, he took over as in-house legal chief for Grupo Pão de Açucar, the largest food, merchandise and electronics companies in the country.

And while Steptoe & Johnson, not to be confused with a West Virginia-based firm using the same name, looks to build out its compliance, investigative and enforcement offerings in Brazil, these are not the only areas that the firm hopes to corner in the Brazilian legal market.

“Brazil has been going through a difficult economic period the last couple of years but we’re seeing a lot of interest now picking up and investment [locally],” said Lucinda Low, the Washington, D.C.-based head of Steptoe & Johnson’s compliance, investigations, trade and enforcement department. “That kind of investment creates opportunities for us, certainly on regulatory [and] compliance side of things and that can develop into other things.”

Low noted that there has been a distinctive uptick in the number of Brazilian companies investing in the United States, which generates disputes and regulatory work. Low also added that there has also been an increase in the number of trade and cross-border deals emanating from the country, whose economy still remains one of the largest in the world.

The dynamism of the Brazilian market, which has made steady gains throughout 2017, is the reason that Steptoe & Johnson decided to have a dedicated person on the ground in the country to ensure that the firm is capturing its fair share of work from a nation that has long attracted large U.S. firms.

“If you’re not able to get down [to Brazil] with a lot of regularity, you can find things have changed a lot,” Low said. “Personnel have moved around and things have changed between one trip and the next, so having somebody who can help us keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening was also a part of the attraction for us.”

In May, Dentons formed an alliance with São Paulo-based Vella Pugliese Buosi Guidoni, joining other major firms in the country like Shearman & Sterling, Skadden and Mayer Brown.