“Right amigos, now we swim – but don’t worry, I’ll create a distraction so the piranhas won’t eat you,” said the least convincing man I have ever met as we were tipped out, sent panting towards the riverbank while said unconvincing man threw raw chicken in the opposite direction.
But before I had the chance to appreciate how in two months I had gone from the Clifford Chance London office to being in a rapidly sinking canoe in the Amazon, I swam as advised, because this was not a time for contemplative thought.
Rewind two months, and I am arriving in São Paulo for my six-month overseas secondment, bags full of sun cream and a Portuguese phrase book in hand.
The Clifford Chance office is situated right in the heart of São Paulo’s business district. Despite the office being one of the largest international law firms in Brazil, the small size compared to London and breadth of work the firm attracts means that you have exposure to multiple departments and types of transactions.
During my six months, I worked on Brazilian mergers, Mexican real estate transactions, bond issuances in El Salvador and share issuances such as the IPO of Banco do Brasil’s insurance unit, as well as learning many Portuguese phrases of varying degrees of usefulness or appropriateness. The diverse nature of the work comes with heightened responsibility and ever-emerging challenges, where you can be drafting principal transaction documents one minute before trying to get your head around Peruvian transfer restrictions the next.
The city itself is a sprawling metropolis packed full of more cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs than you could ever hope to visit, coupled with some of the friendliest people in the world. The fast pace means you have no chance to miss home comforts; those boxes of tea bags you insisted on squeezing into your suitcase will be passed on to colleagues in favour of fresh coffee and juices, care packages of Cadbury’s will be dismissed in favour of brigadeiros and roast dinners will never be the same after a churrasco.
The beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the sights of Buenos Aires or the adventure of the Amazon are just a quick hop on the plane away, where you then remember that people come from all over the world to see the things that are suddenly on your comparative doorstep.
Brazil presents the opportunity to bring out your inner Indiana Jones, while also being exposed to a wide range of work in an exciting and emerging economy. São Paulo provides a great base from which to gain exposure to markets such as Mexico, Chile and Panama as well as Brazil, and to work with dynamic businesses looking for ways to invest in new areas.
And to all those wondering about the result of my piranha exploits, I made it to the shore bite free, only to be attacked by a rudely awakened sloth, producing a three-toed souvenir of a scar which I will proudly show at any opportunity.
Rebecca Jack, trainee, Clifford Chance