BLP increases female numbers at senior level

March, 2018 - Costa Rica

One in three partners at Central American firm BLP are now women after a promotion in Nicaragua and a hire in Costa Rica, bucking regional diversity norms.

Administrative and real estate lawyer Sofia Zuniga, 38, joins the firm’s San José office as senior counsel from Costa Rican law firm Legal & Business Advice, while energy and infrastructure practitioner Claudia Prado, 44, has been promoted in Managua. The firm now counts five counsel and 30 partners across Central America and Spain.

Zuniga says she was drawn to BLP by its ethical standards and high degree of practice area specialisation. She also notes the firm’s supportive work policies. These include the option of flexible working hours and telecommuting.

Zuniga says she left her previous firm, where she was a partner, on great terms with her colleagues. She praises Legal & Business Advice for helping her maintain a good work-life balance after she moved to the Dominican Republic for family reasons. During this time, the firm allowed her to work remotely and on flexi-time.

Legal & Business Advice founding partner Ricardo Zuniga says Sofia Zuniga left on “excellent terms”. “She was instrumental in business development and in setting up the firm’s strategy,” he says. At present, the firm does not plan on hiring a replacement.

In neighboring Nicaragua, Prado has become the Managua office’s second partner after only half a year as counsel. Local managing partner Ernesto Rizo says the firm thought Prado was partner material when she joined, but required a trial period given her lack of private practice experience. Rizo notes that Prado’s capabilities were quickly confirmed within her first six months, adding that her insights as a former in-house counsel have been invaluable.

Over the coming year, the Managua office expects more demand for real estate and agribusiness counsel as competitive land prices and low labour costs draw investment. Rizo adds that Nicaragua is fast becoming a tourism hotspot. The firm’s San Juan del Sur office, on Nicaragua’s southwest coast, is already getting more tourist-related real estate work. BLP expects similar work to materialise in Managua this year.

Regionally, BLP’s latest promotions and hires mean 30% of the firm’s partnership in Central America is female. This is higher than the Latin American average of 21% and almost three times greater than Costa Rica’s national average of 13%. Nicaragua fares even greater with 35%, meaning the country ranks third overall in the region behind Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. These figures are based on Latin Lawyer’s Women in Law survey conducted in 2016.

BLP has taken several measures to address the gender gap that is prevalent at partner level throughout the legal world. Alongside its flexi-time policies, breastfeeding rooms and mentoring programmes, BLP received the United Nations Development Programme’s gender equality certification programme last year. The certificate is granted to public and private businesses that promote and demonstrate gender equality effectively in the workplace. In Costa Rica, the certificate is granted by The National Institute for Women in Costa Rica (INAMU), a branch of the government which is focused on protecting the rights of women.

Along with gender diversity, LGBTI rights are something the firm is also making a conscious effort to improve. BLP is the only firm to have signed the San José Declaration, which is a commitment to raise awareness about discrimination internally, among clients, and with other firms.

Costa Rican partner and head of BLP’s women and gender equality programmes Vivian Liberman says the firm has formed a commission, with representatives from every department and the partnership to exchange good practices with other companies to increase diversity: “A company that implements diversity actions and policies benefits from different points of view…and this speaks positively of the firm,” she notes. “It speaks of transparency, anti-corruption, empowerment and democracy, as everyone is invited to participate.”