Now almost two years into his presidency, Luis Acre has started to bring a sense of stability and calm to a previously fractured Bolivia. His appointment came after opposition senator Jeanine Áñez spent a year as interim president following Evo Morales' 2019 resignation.
Over the years, nationalisations in strategic sectors such as oil and gas, energy and telecoms have curtailed private investment. And while the government’s infrastructure and energy agendas offer opportunities for investors, the recent political turmoil has hampered any significant economic growth. Investors from Russia, China and Iran have previously shown interest in Bolivia, but the political and social uncertainty has put any major projects on hold.
Notwithstanding the impact of geopolitical events, Bolivia’s law firms prove year on year that they have the flexibility to stay profitable during periods of turbulence. In terms of practice areas, natural resources, arbitration, regulatory and labour law remain the busiest for local firms. While foreign investors have shown more interest in the country’s opportunities in energy and natural resources, there is still a relative lack of complex or cross-border legal work. This has kept the legal community relatively small compared with those of some other countries in Latin America.
Traditionally, Bolivian firms have been family-led outfits, with a handful of related partners occupying most, if not all, senior positions. This time-honoured structure has served these establishments well for decades, but change is afoot. Leading firms are reviewing their structures and processes to remain competitive and retain precious talent. One of the largest and most established firms in this market, Moreno Baldivieso, credits its institutionalised approach for the stability and success of its partnership, the majority of its equity partners are unrelated to the founding family. Newly founded PPO Abogados – formed after partners left Ferrere (Bolivia) – has continued to grow and consolidate itself as a player in the market. Other firms such as Bufete Aguirre, Quintanilla, Soria & Nishizawa Sociedad Civil, have remained stable in the face of market challenges. Meanwhile, global firm Dentons caused a stir when it announced its combination with Bolivia’s Guevara & Gutiérrez – Servicios Legales, which signalled the arrival of a law firm from outside Latin America in the local legal sector.
In an effort to modernise and attract the best talent, law firms are putting in place more structured career paths for junior lawyers while, at the partnership level, some are rethinking their equity ownership or introducing new categories of partner. Only a small group of firms listed in this chapter have a truly international outlook, but those with a cross-border focus tend to have lawyers who have spent time at universities and law firms overseas. Bolivian outfits are also implementing tools to help better serve their clients, speeding up their processes and reviewing their fee structures as a result.
Bolivian firms tend to have offices in La Paz, the country’s administrative capital, and in the eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz, the commercial and oil and gas centre, to which companies have moved their headquarters over the years. Several also have operations in Bolivian oil and gas hub Cochabamba, mining centre Potosí and the southern city of Tarija.