7 March, 2022 Colombia

International Women’s Day Q&A series: Claudia Barrero

PPU

Latin Lawyer speaks to Claudia Barrero of Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (Colombia) about what it takes to be a woman at the top of the legal industry, the important role clients play in achieving gender equality at law firms and why there is still a long way to go in Latin America.  

In conjunction with International Women’s Day this week, Latin Lawyer is interviewing some of the female lawyers that are blazing a trail in Latin America’s legal profession. In the first of our five-article series, PPU’s Claudia Barrero discusses some of the challenges she has encountered throughout her career so far.

As a transactional partner at PPU in Bogotá, Barrero leads key negotiations on high-stakes transactions, a space that is often dominated by male lawyers in the Latin American region. She is currently a lead partner in the firm’s M&A, banking and capital markets groups.

From early on, Barrero always had a clear understanding of why she wanted to enter the legal profession. “Lawyers are allowed to speak up and I wanted to have that ability,” she says, adding that she chose transactional law because she “had this idea that the world would be better if we had less conflict and more negotiation.”

Throughout her career, Barrero has advised important clients on IPOs, debt issuances and cross-border M&A deals, while she has worked on numerous privatisations and deals in the energy sector too, including advice to state-owned entities. In 2019, Barrero led the PPU team that helped a subsidiary of Colombia’s Ecopetrol acquire a stake in oil fields from US energy giant Chevron. In a deal worth nearly US$1 billion, she also helped Canadian investor Brookfield Asset Management snap up a stake in Colombian energy group Isagen in a relevant transaction some years ago.

What are some of the common obstacles faced by women in the legal profession?

In many senses, it is still an old boy’s club – even if some male lawyers say it isn’t. As with entering any profession for the first time, you always feel a bit like an outsider, and that is still the case for women navigating Latin America’s legal industry – it is more difficult to be heard and taken seriously. I have faced many obstacles due to my gender; I once had a client who told me I could not win in a discussion as I was a female partner up against a male counterpart. It is difficult because as a woman you need to run the extra mile and the other issue is we do not have a lot of female role models in leadership positions, so it can often feel very lonely at the top.

Do you think that the legal industry in your country is doing enough to support gender equality?

While I think that we have come a long, long way and we do need to acknowledge that things have changed a lot, the industry could do more. It is important to set goals on gender parity, and we are still far from that. We need more policies that reduce the gap, by setting targets for having a set percentage of partners by a specific date. I believe setting those goals is more important than anything.

Do clients play a role in helping to achieve gender equality in the legal profession?

Absolutely. One of the main reasons we have changed is because of clients. Clients demand change, and law firms react to that demand. Often, our clients will come to us and say “I want to see more female partners and attorneys on the team.” That sort of feedback plays an essential role in driving change at the firm.

Do you expect to see more gender equality within partnerships at Latin American firms in the coming years?

I think that things will get better, but they won’t necessarily be perfect – I don’t think that we will see a 50-50 split at the partner level. In Latin America, women play an important role in families, so the main issue will be how to sustain that work-life balance. However, the millennial generation provides hope that things will improve, and I can see Latin America moving towards a more European model where the man takes a more active role in the family. Then, you can have the equality of partners at the family level and in the legal sense.

What advice would you give to young female lawyers starting out in the industry?

Be yourself, work hard and enjoy the ride. You really need to love this if you want to see it to the end.

 

Source: Latin Lawyer

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