Ecuador has a compact, consolidated legal market. Pérez Bustamante & Ponce Abogados is by far the largest player, invariably winning work on the country’s biggest transactions. It has solid contenders in the constantly growing Ferrere and a new-look Bustamante & Bustamante, which are both capturing an increasing amount of cross-border deal work. Those firms lost a prime competitor in terms of headcount in Corral Rosales Carmigniani Pérez, which split into its legacy firms a few years ago. Both firms remain core members of the market, albeit smaller in size.
Many firms in this chapter have well-structured, multidisciplinary offerings, enabling them to serve international and local companies well in a range of matters. They have responded effectively to the government’s growing regulatory oversight. Big-ticket M&A deals are now subject to antitrust approval, while labour and environmental laws have been tightened. Law firms have duly increased their offerings in these areas.
Ecuador’s economy contracted slightly in 2019, according to the IMF. Sustained low commodity prices, the public deficit, reduced investments and political turmoil were some of the contributing factors. Demand for litigation and labour law advice remained high as companies sought to rectify the damage wrought by the economic downturn.
Many hoped that President Lenín Moreno’s policies would bring new investment to the country, but the result has been meagre. While Ecuador’s inclusion in the EU’s free trade agreement with neighbouring Colombia and Peru in 2017 alongside a 2018 law to promote foreign investment bore some fruit, more seems to be needed to reinvigorate the local market. Perhaps the country’s strategy to join Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru in the Pacific Alliance free trade block, as announced by President Moreno during 2019, will bring the much-needed investment and revive the financial market. If this move takes place, it will most likely impact the legal market. No other jurisdictions have seen as many international law firms enter the market as those of the Pacific Alliance over the past few years.
Some law firms have opted to bolster their existing anti-corruption and compliance practices in anticipation of foreign players setting up Ecuadorian operations. Others are offering these services for the first time in the wake of sprawling corruption scandals that have implicated almost every country in the region.
All of these influences are encouraging Ecuadorian firms towards greater practice area specialisation and a widening of their service offer in response to clients’ changing demands. Lawyers are branching out into other disciplines such as mining following recent government initiatives, while fishery and data protection are newer specialisations.
Geographically, Ecuador remains largely a tale of two cities. Most firms now have offices in both the national capital Quito (where most of the firms in this list are based) and the port city of Guayaquil, which is undeniably the primary business centre of Ecuador. As proven by law firm split-ups in the past, mastering the two cities simultaneously is not an easy task.