Argentina has long been characterised by a boom and bust economy and in 2019 it failed to break that cycle. While expectations were high, the country struggled to recover from the shock of the previous year’s recession.
Inflation rates climbed to their highest in 28 years, while tight currency controls were implemented after successive drops in the peso. Alberto Fernández’s election in December marked a return to power for the leftist Peronist movement, and he took office with a country burdened with two hefty bailouts from the IMF totalling US$57 billion – the largest loan in the Fund’s history.
A sprawling anti-corruption probe – centred on the Notebooks case – has drawn comparisons to Brazil’s Lava Jato. The scale of graft and the number of high-level officials implicated is similar. The scandal has engulfed current Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and in September 2019 a federal judge ordered the case to trial, which is pending.
Despite currency fluctuations, the capital markets picked up slightly in 2019. The government’s renewables strategy, RenovAr, has succeeded in attracting unprecedented investor interest in this sector and is the blueprint for the public–private partnership programme, projects from which have already secured financing and will continue to do so in 2020.
There were also several deals in the natural resources sector, with Vaca Muerta shale blocks exchanging hands at several points throughout the year. The anticipation of continued private spending in this area has seen many firms strengthen their service offerings here.
Foreign companies looking for opportunities here will find firms that are well equipped to staff deals. Full-service firms in Argentina offer an impressive breadth of legal services to their clients. As well as containing star dealmakers, there are exceptionally strong energy, mining, administrative, litigation, arbitration, labour, IP and tax lawyers within the firms listed on these pages.
Argentina has a large legal market, dominated by well-established and sizable firms. Size-wise, Marval, O'Farrell & Mairal dominates by some margin, with a headcount of more than 300 lawyers. There are a handful of other firms with more than 100 lawyers. Most firms in this chapter are multi-disciplinary, but there are several highly-rated boutique-style firms focused on transactional areas, as well as insolvency, environment and tax.
Historically, economic volatility has largely served to deter even the most ambitious international players from the Argentine market, but recent years have seen arrivals from global firms. Dentons announced a combination with Rattagan Macchiavello Arocena in 2019, while DLA Piper arrived the year before via a combination with local firm Cabanellas Etchebarne Kelly. Baker McKenzie (Argentina) has had an office here for decades, while Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP (which has a prominent partner based in Buenos Aires alongside a team of mostly US-qualified lawyers) and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP (which has a low-profile office born of an alliance with a local firm) also feature. There are also a couple of UK insurance-focused firms with stakes in the market, while Spanish law firm Garrigues has made its interest in opening an office in Argentina well-known.
Most Argentine corporate law firms have not seen fit to expand beyond Buenos Aires, but a handful of firms also have offices in the cities of Córdoba, Neuquén, Mendoza, Rosario and Tigre. Others take an international approach and have opened offices in New York including Marval, Pérez Alati, Grondona, Benites & Arntsen, Alfaro Abogados and Errecondo González y Funes. Alfaro Abogados also stands out for having an office in Beijing.
Many firms recommended over the next pages have admirable commitments to providing free legal aid and routinely work with the Comisión de Trabajo Pro Bono e Interés Público, a pro bono clearinghouse in Buenos Aires that also covers the rest of Argentina.