Uruguay has enjoyed an extended period of stability and economic growth for the past 18 years. However, the pace has slowed in recent times, and in November 2019 the country voted out the left wing leadership of the past 15 years. Luis Lacalle Pou was elected by a narrow margin, and he will preside over a conservative coalition that has promised to rein in government spending and reduce the fiscal deficit. The business sector is paying close attention, and the IMF has predicted a growth of 2.3% for 2020, compared to only 0.4% in 2019 amid prior election uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the investment-friendly economy of the past few decades has provided for a legal market with considerable clout. The boom years fostered firms with transactional skills. Renewable energy opportunities have sparked an uptick in project financing while M&A lawyers have since benefited from the sale of wind and solar farms. The country has also seen an increase in infrastructure PPPs and concessions, which are expected to grow after President-elect Pou pledged the liberalisation of certain sectors and to find alternatives to finance public works. Meanwhile, the liberalisation of cannabis in 2013 increased administrative work and investment opportunities, inspiring firms to deepen their expertise and offerings in this field.
Uruguay has a mature legal market, with firms that enjoy international profiles and are somewhat larger than the country’s size and GDP might hint at. The market is dominated by the two largest firms, Ferrere and Guyer & Regules, which both list more than 100 lawyers. Both are known for pulling in the lion’s share of high-level transactional work, as well as for their deep benches across a wide range of areas. The country’s fourth-largest firm merged with global law firm Dentons, rebranding as Dentons Jiménez de Aréchaga. There are also highly rated alternatives to the large firms that leverage their smaller headcounts to give clients specialised counsel in a handful of areas.
To complement their Montevideo headquarters, several firms have offices in the city’s free trade zones, as well as the resort city of Punta del Este. Ferrere remains the only Uruguayan firm to pursue an international expansion, with other offices in Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador. Its singularity in this respect looks unlikely to change anytime soon, with no other Uruguayan firms planning international openings. In the same vein, while Dentons’ arrival in the country was not a major surprise given its strategy, no one expects more foreign firms to be setting up shop in Uruguay in the near future.