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#CovLatinx Spotlight Series: Gabriel J. Mesa

September 28, 2018

Gabriel MesaGabriel Mesa is a partner in the firm’s New York office and a member of the Corporate Practice Group. He advises companies on corporate transactions, including joint ventures, private mergers and acquisitions, financings and restructurings in Latin America and other emerging markets as well as in the United States.

Born in the United States, Mr. Mesa was raised in Bogotá, Colombia and identifies as Colombian-American. Having returned to the United States to go to college, Mr. Mesa refers to himself as a 1.5 generation immigrant. -- not first generation, because he was born in the United States, but not entirely second either because his direct experience with the United States only really began when he returned for college.

How has your cultural background influenced your ability to represent clients in Latin America?


I certainly do not think that you need to be from the region or speak Spanish in order to successfully represent Latin American clients. At the same time, knowledge of Latin America and of the nuances and particularities of doing business there can only prove helpful. A lot of our work for our Latin American clients involves ‘translation’, but by this I do not mean the literal act of translating writing or speech from another language into Spanish, but rather that of helping clients understand just what a US, European, or Asian investor is ultimately seeking and what issues are (or are not) important to them.


Developing a cultural competency can become a critical asset in many situations. I was among a team at Covington representing a Mexican businessman in the sale of a manufacturer of retail products, that he had built from the ground up, to a European public company. The negotiating styles of the two parties were wildly dissimilar and each party was initially unsure of what the other wanted to accomplish. To consummate the deal, we spent a great deal of time explaining to our own client what we perceived to be the counterparty’s business objectives and helping him develop positions that were truly responsive to their concerns while preserving his own interests. We also play a similar role, albeit reversed, for clients outside of Latin America who may not always be fully cognizant of how business is done in the region.


What advice do you have for associates interested in doing more cross border work?


When I was a young lawyer, one of my mentors liked to say that the key to being a top international lawyer was first to be a top lawyer, and I think that remains true. A top international securities lawyer is first and foremost a top securities lawyer, a top cross-border M&A lawyer is first and foremost a top M&A lawyer, and so on. Ultimately there is no substitute for honing your skills by doing a wide variety of transactions in your chosen practice area, without too much concern for whether there is an ‘international’ component or not.


With that said, I think the type of person that tends to succeed the most in cross-border work is someone who has what I would call a certain degree of ‘cultural irony’, meaning that s/he is:

comfortable dealing with different cultures and taking them on her/his own terms, non-judgmental about the business and other practices of other cultures, and well aware that her/his own cultural practices are not the only (or best) source for how to reach a particular result.


Has your cultural background influenced the type of pro bono work you have done at Covington?


To some extent. Shortly after I arrived at Covington I oversaw associates on very interesting projects for US human rights organizations seeking information on how the principal Latin American jurisdictions dealt statutorily with various LGBT issues.  (It may surprise some people to learn that legislation on LGBT rights is often more progressive in Latin America than in the US.)  The work required accessing our own network of local counsel in these jurisdictions, obtaining the information (which was most often in Spanish), translating it and then making a comparative analysis for our clients. The associates did a tremendous job and the clients were very pleased with the results. More recently I have been overseeing various types of immigration cases involving Latin American migrants. In these cases I am more often than not instructed by our associates, many of whom have developed a great deal of expertise on immigration-related matters.

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