Florencia Heredia, Mining Lawyer of the Year 2013
Florencia Heredia, a founding partner of HOLT Abogados in Buenos Aires, is our most highly nominated mining lawyer worldwide, earning the WWL award for the first time. In an interview with Who’s Who Legal, Heredia describes her career to date.
With early aspirations of working for the Argentine foreign ministry, Heredia embarked on a law degree at the Catholic University of Argentina. Having spent a large part of her childhood travelling due to her father’s job, she had a strong appreciation for international cultures and diversity. “I was always interested in the law, justice and different legal systems,” she says. While her career has taken a different direction from her original plans, she says being a lawyer has allowed her to achieve her dreams in a different way, adding, “Working in the private sector, in terms of having a family and a balance of work and life, worked out to be a much better choice."
Heredia joined Estudio Beccar Varela in 1992 as an associate and stayed with the firm for over 16 years. Around the time of her arrival, a new legal framework for mining investment was being introduced in Argentina and the country started to see a growth in investment from foreign companies. Heredia recalls the first mining client of the firm (a contact of her supervising partner) and how the client wanted advice on a subject that at the time the lawyers knew very little about. Indeed, she says, “We were very honest to the client about our lack of experience.” From this point on, it was a steep learning curve and Heredia did all she could to deepen her knowledge of the sector – she singlehandedly went on to establish and head the firm’s natural resources and environmental law departments. Specialising in mining law was a case of “being in the right place at the right time”, she explains. “I was very lucky to work with US and Canadian general counsels – legends in the field – and I learned a lot.” Heredia has always been attracted to the diverse practice of mining law which “brings together so many different areas of the law: environment, regulatory, financial, contract.”
In 2008, Heredia decided to form her own firm with three female partners. “It was a decision I had been thinking about for some time. Although I was at a great stage in my career at Beccar Varela [she was promoted to partner in 2000] I decided it was time to follow a different path.” The partners created HOLT Abogados, a highly specialised boutique with a focus on corporate, financial, regulatory, natural resources and environmental matters. “At HOLT Abogados we aim to offer clients a tailor-made, more responsive service,” she says. “The legal market in Argentina is made up of many large, full-service law firms which will continue, but there is a growing trend of specialist firms.”
The firm has performed particularly well considering the difficult political environment in Argentina at present. Despite current government policy towards foreign investment, Heredia says, “We still have clients looking for projects and planning for the long term.” It is no doubt a challenging climate to work in for the lawyers and their clients but Heredia explains, “What clients really want is guidance on the political and economic aspects of the country. Although we are lawyers, clients – particularly foreign clients – expect a project lawyer to advise on all aspects of risk management.” The continued support of her clients is a testament to the quality of service she provides.
Throughout her career she has always felt immensely supported by those around her. She says, “I’ve always had the support to do what I wanted throughout my career, but I have always been the driving force, thinking what can I do, which course, etc... and then asking.” Her proactive attitude is inspiring and Heredia is certainly a go-getter. To succeed in the field, she says, you need to have the right attitude. “Of course, the mentality of institutions also needs to continue changing but I always knew that I had to create my own opportunities.”
However, it goes without saying that there have been obstacles to overcome along the way. She recalls having to work hard on building her confidence to be able to network. She sees this as an issue common to many women: “We are very hard-working but we sometimes find it harder to devote time to networking and socialising.” Having always been active within the legal community, she describes how she spent years travelling, attending international conferences and networking events where she was very often “one of the few women present”. Heredia says that women need to devote as much time to networking as men: “It makes a difference in generating clients.”
In the last 20 years, she has seen a lot of improvement in the work-life balance for both men and women. “Men also have concerns over quality of life in the legal profession,” she says. Of course, there are sacrifices that must be made to be successful. Heredia, who has been married nearly 21 years, started her family at almost the same time as her career, and has always chosen to live very close to her place of work in order to spend the maximum amount of time possible with her family. But, as she says, “That’s life – you have to make choices.”
In terms of what the legal industry could do to encourage more women to reach the top level of the profession, Heredia says that “flexibility” is key. “When talented women need to spend more time with their family, there needs to be a better solution”. She is adamant that women “must be promoted on merit” but accepts that law firms themselves still have some work to do. “Law firms should consider making all aspects of life at the firm equal, including socialising and sports. Many firms in Argentina have football teams – which, of course, is great and a part of our cultural tradition; though perhaps they should also consider introducing sports which are more accessible to women or find other ways in which female lawyers can be involved.”
While becoming partner was always the dream when she was starting out, Heredia says that today the goal is higher. “It is important to be part of the decision making body of the organisation, as well as a partner.”
When questioned about the higher number of female partners in Latin America, Heredia laughs. “Perhaps it is because Latin American women are strong and direct.” She also adds that they are very fortunate to have so much support at home by way of maids or staff: “Having a structure in place at home makes a great difference – it allows me to go off and devote more time to my profession.”