With law deeply rooted in his family tree, Portuguese lawyer Carlos Eduardo Coelho decided to move from his hometown of Coimbra to develop his career as a lawyer in Macau, where he currently works as Senior Associate at MdME law firm covering the gaming industry.
Oscar Guijarro: Could you tell us about your origins?
Carlos Eduardo Coelho: I am from Coimbra, Portugal. I was born there, grew up there, studied there – school and university. I did my law degree there, except for the last year of my degree when I went to study in Italy, which was a very good experience.
OG: How did you end up in Macau?
CEC: I had just finished my internship in Portugal. I had been working for three or four months and I wanted to go abroad. I had a few opportunities and then I was invited to come to work in Macau and I thought, “Why not?” I was not thinking of China – it was not in my plans. I thought I would stay in Europe, but I had this invitation and I was sure it would be a good experience, which indeed it turned out to be. I arrived in Macau on 14 December 2008, a few days before Christmas.
OG: You’ve been here for almost a decade now – what is your relationship with Macau now?
CEC: It is obviously a strange relationship. I really like living here although I miss Portugal a lot. That’s normal as we are very far away but I really love being here. We have a saying in Portugal, “Primeiro estranha-se depois entranha-se”, meaning, “First it is strange and later it is entrenched inside of you.” In the beginning you ask, “Where am I? This is China, what is this all around?” but then you feel that Macau is your place, which it is.
OG: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
CEC: Well, my mother has a drawing that I did when I was five of a man with a tie and I asked her to write on it, “I am going to be a lawyer when I am 30 and I am going to get married” and indeed I became a lawyer … most likely because of family influence. My father is a lawyer, his brothers – one is a lawyer and the other a public prosecutor. My grandfather was also a public prosecutor so since a very young age I wanted to be a lawyer. I never wanted to be anything else.
OG: Does the lawyer life leave you much time for a personal life?
CEC: If you ask this question to my wife, the answer will probably be different! It’s not easy. This is very demanding work and most of the time people don’t realize that. We are always working. I don’t leave the office when I go home. When you go on holidays the problems don’t stop. I normally say that a lawyer can never get sick, because he can’t. And to juggle family life with work is not easy, but whenever I am with them, I try to really be with them.
OG: If you ever returned to live in Portugal, what immaterial items from Macau would be part of your luggage?
CEC: A lot. Professionally I am learning a lot here because, as a young lawyer, you Macau’s Cotai Strip have access to matters and work with certain kind of deals and operations that, if I was in Portugal, I would have to be a partner in a major law firm to have access to.
The fact that we work on a daily basis with Hong Kong lawyers, with Singapore lawyers, with international lawyers with a broad experience, this is very important. I would bring this professional experience to Portugal.
Also, we are in China, so even though I feel I am European, I have assimilated a lot with the culture, the Chinese culture, the Macanese, this Southeast Asia environment. And I think I would bring a little bit of that – accepting people as they are. Before, I was in my world in Portugal and that is what I knew. Here there are so many realities and cultural backgrounds.
OG: In terms of professional challenges, what was the hardest challenge you faced when you came to Macau?
CEC: When I came to Macau the type of work I was involved in was very demanding. You had to be very responsible because of the size of the matters, of the amounts involved, and so it made me grow very quickly in the sense that I really had to be a good professional. I really had to adapt and step up my game, so that was a challenge in the beginning.
It was challenging working with the international lawyers who were very savvy with a lot of expertise. Having them as your counterparts, well, I had to learn. I had to step up my game.
OG: How did you end up working within the gaming sector specifically?
CEC: I think it is very difficult to be in Macau as a lawyer and not have any exposure to gaming. Less or more exposure, it depends, but you’ll always have exposure. If your clients are not directly related to gaming, they are indirectly related to gaming so I think it started a little bit like that.
I worked several years for a previous concessionaire and still the major shareholder of a gaming concessionaire, so that was, directly or indirectly, a lot of my gaming exposure. From there I started working with gaming manufacturers and slowly I started to understand better this industry and I started meeting people related to this industry, so it was a natural evolution.
Since I joined MdME, where I am working now, well, MdME has a huge gaming practice so on a daily basis I am doing something either for a gaming manufacturer or for a gaming promoter or someone who wants to invest or for a concessionaire.
OG: I assume working in this industry must never get boring for you?
CEC: One thing I realized is that this is an industry that is always reinventing itself. And there are so many things that you can do with a gaming customer, because a gaming customer can be a concessionaire, or a provider of online gaming or someone that has an idea for a product and wants to put it on the market and wants your assistance. Then you need to understand the specificities of that product, because there might be another gaming manufacturer with a wholly different product and you have to work out a solution for this.
Also, I think this is very relevant, the growth of gaming in Asia as a whole – you have emerging jurisdictions where gaming is growing a lot. You have Vietnam, you have Cambodia, you have Laos, Japan is upcoming but that’s still a new thing. Also Korea and Taiwan – it is an interesting industry to work in within Asia.
OG: Where do you see Macau in 10 years’ time?
CEC: I think Macau will continue to develop in terms of its gaming industry. For sure it will continue to be the biggest gaming jurisdiction in Asia and the world in terms of revenue. It will have competition but competition most likely will be good for Macau.
I expect to see, with the concessions coming to an end, several changes happening. There might be one new operator or more than one new operator in the market, and I think we will have a better industry.
I think the future concessionaires will give more to the community because the government has learnt and when we have a new public tender they will include obligations to give back to the community. They will have more non-gaming obligations. I expect that the non-gaming part of the industry will grow a lot. I think everyone here expects that. I believe that will be a reality.
Probably we will have an industry more adapted to new customers and when I say new customers I mean millennials, the new people that are coming – mainly from Mainland China. The industry is focused on one kind of client and the client is changing so the gaming concessionaires will need to adapt to this new client.
OG: When do you expect us to find out more about the public tender?
CEC: For those concessions about to expire in 2020 [SJM and MGM] they need to know soon. We expect to have some clarity soon, even though I believe that until the change of Chief Executive, which will be in 2019, the most relevant decisions will not be made.
OG: What achievements are you most proud of?
CEC: I am a lawyer so I am always on the side. It is the client who gets the achievements. That is the way it works and I am perfectly comfortable with that. I think that for a lawyer, the achievements are recognition from your peers, recognition from the market, that we are good professionals, trustworthy professionals. This is the biggest achievement we can get.