São Paulo bar association will defend democracy, says future president

  • Brazil
  • 12/20/2018
  • Latin Lawyer

Caio Augusto Santos, the winner of a close contest to become the next president of São Paulo’s bar association, OAB-SP, spoke to Latin Lawyer about his plans for the post he will occupy from 1 January.

Santos’ election, following a neck-and-neck contest to choose the next leader of Brazil’s largest and most influential bar sectional against incumbent president Marcos da Costa, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the elections of 27 OAB sectionals that took place on 29 November. A lawyer and professor from Bauru, a city of 367,000 inhabitants located 400 kilometres from the state capital, Santos was seen as an outside candidate because he is not from the city of São Paulo’s mainstream business law community. Around 400,000 lawyers were entitled to vote. Santos, whose support base comes from voters from other cities besides the capital, is in favour of decentralising the bar’s administration. He also pledged more transparency in the institution’s management and promised to fight for the empowerment of women lawyers. When it comes to global law firms, he says the bar will continue to defend regulations in place regarding associations between international and Brazilian law firms. He tells Latin Lawyer why the bar must defend the democratic values guaranteed by Brazil’s constitution.

Latin Lawyer: Your election was seen as a surprise by many. What can we expect to see change under your mandate?

Caio Augusto Santos: Good quality legal services can be found not only in the Jardins neighbourhood, but all across the state of São Paulo, including in other areas of the capital. The great majority of lawyers in Brazil have individual practices or work in small law firms. Our goal is to give real value to the general practitioner, the one that really faces the daily challenges of practising in courts around the state.

LL: What are those challenges and how you are planning to tackle them?

CAS: All public institutions and authorities need to understand that there cannot be second-class citizens. Lawyers cannot be excluded from the decision-making process of public institutions. The lawyer is the professional to which the constitution assigns the mission of protecting citizens from the state. It’s obvious that those who have money will never access any space in the legal system or enter into a legal dispute of any sort without having a lawyer representing them. We cannot allow citizens who are less well-off to not have legal representation. Nowadays, those citizens are harmed because they are not duly represented. That is why we will defend, in very objective terms, that the legal profession is given proper value. Our mission is to defend citizenship and be at the citizen’s side.

LL: Brazil’s president-elect holds controversial views and has shown admiration for Brazil’s former dictatorship. What role do you think the bar association will play under a Bolsonaro government?

CAS: Since the beginning of our campaign, we have been really clear about stating that the bar association cannot be subservient to any government. It needs to demonstrate its vocation and be independent to have legitimacy to criticise those in power. As an interlocutor for civil society, the bar needs to be outspoken about all issues that are important to lawyers and to citizens in general, without seeking applause or fearing criticism. Our mission is to defend the rights and guarantees enacted in Brazil’s constitution. Of course we will do that with absolute respect to the legitimate authorities, but we will preserve and take good care of our independency.

LL: Your campaign promised to empower women lawyers and promote equality. How do you intend to do that?

CAS: The bar needs to be representative of our society. There is a rule at the OAB-SP establishing quotas; at least 30% of members of the bar’s commissions and those holding executive positions should be women. This regulation is applicable from 2021 but we are going to implement it now. Apart from that, we also have seven black lawyers as counsellors. There are no black people in the current administration.

LL: Following state elections there will be elections for the national bar association. What are your expectations and which candidate are you going to endorse?

CAS: I will meet the candidates to decide which we are going to support. That has not been decided yet.

LL: We have seen the bar be very active when it comes to monitoring associations between Brazilian firms and international firms. Do you foresee any changes in this regard?

CAS: We also defend the premise that the practice of law in Brazil needs to be overseen by our institution. Regarding international firms and international lawyers, this needs to be controlled by OAB’s national counsel and that includes the nature of these associations. The legal practice in Brazil deserves special attention because of the great number of good lawyers we have in the country.