Bolivia market overview

Bolivia’s state-owned companies dominate the country’s resource-dependent economy and play a major role in the allocation of resources and investment priorities. Historically, the large role played by the state, coupled with periodic bouts of political turbulence and waves of nationalisations in strategic sectors, such as oil and gas, energy and telecoms, have crowded out private investment.    These dynamics feed through to the country’s legal community. While the legal market is settled, the firms are proven experts in the kind of flexibility required to maintain profitability. Law firms’ strongest practice areas are typically natural resources, arbitration, regulatory and labour law, and resources are routinely moved from one practice area to another as demanded. Indeed, senior partners can maintain their positions in the marketplace precisely because of their ability to react to the sweeping and recurring changes in the Bolivian economy with flexibility and aplomb. Younger partners are more able to focus on specific areas, but general corporate expertise is a requirement just to reach partner level in Bolivia. Across the market, the absence of large flows of foreign investment and relative scarcity of complex or cross-border legal work has ensured the legal community is relatively small compared to some other small countries in Latin America. None of the leading firms in our list has a headcount of over 40 lawyers, for example, and most are based on a traditional, family-led structure characterised by a handful of related partners occupying most, if not all, senior positions. Such a model has clearly served these firms well for decades. The average age of firms on our list is 55 years; rising to 63 years when Ferrere, a Uruguayan firm that entered the market just over a decade ago and is the country’s only foreign player, is exempted. Nevertheless, there are signs of modernisation taking place in the market. A fall in the price of natural gas, on which Bolivia is heavily dependent, has led the government to soften its approach to the private sector, which has helped bring new work to law firms. Moreover, firms are re-evaluating their structures and processes to remain competitive and retain scarce talent. Consequently several firms have engaged management consultants to help develop clear, structured career paths for junior members of the firm, while at the partnership level, some are rethinking their equity ownership or introducing new categories of partner. Only a small group of firms have an international outlook, but those with a cross-border focus tend to have lawyers who have spent time in universities and law firms overseas. Client portfolios dominated by foreign investors also influence their approach to legal services.



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