Chile has experienced a tumultuous and turbulent year. Since the inauguration of President Gabriel Boric in 2022, the left-wing politician and former student union leader has faced strong opposition to his mandate. In September, Chileans voted against the passing of a new constitution, which would have legalised abortion and created universal healthcare, among other measures.
Chileans agreed to overhaul its Pinochet-era constitution in a historic referendum back in 2020, at which time the nation was battling rising inequality, social unrest and political polarisation. In September 2022, however, 60% of the electorate voted against the new draft in a plebiscite, with critics describing it as too vague, polarising and radical. The ‘no’ vote forced politicians to return to the drawing board and for a new constitutional council to be elected.
In May 2023, Chile’s far right won a victory in a vote to select the committee that will rewrite the next draft of the constitution, after the Republican party – led by José Antonio Kast – secured 22 of its 50 seats. Kast lost to Boric in the 2021 elections. A new draft constitution in now being drawn up and voters are expected to approve or reject the new proposal in December.
Chile may be in a state of flux while it awaits the introduction of a new constitution, but the country’s economy has remained attractive to investors. Fighting climate change continues to be a priority for the country’s politicians, thanks to former president Sebastián Piñera’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The diversification of Chile’s energy matrix has sparked significant investments in its renewables sector. The Andean nation has firmly established itself as a world leader in renewable energy development.
Although the mining industry came under threat when Boric’s administration came to power, the sector continues to be a major contributor to the country’s GDP. Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and copper demand and prices have soared over the past few years, owing to the use of the metal in popular green energy sources such as electric cars and wind turbines.
A progressive labour reform was delivered by Boric’s government in 2023. Congress passed a bill to cut the work week from 45 to 40 hours. The new law mandates one less hour a week of work per year until the work week reaches 40 hours.
Tax reform remains at the top of Boric’s agenda. He campaigned on a pledge to add a 2.5% tax rate on the highest earners which would raise some US$5 billion, the equivalent of 1.9% of the country’s GDP, and help fund Boric’s ambitious social policies. In spring 2023, Congress shelved the tax reform, although Boric remains steadfast in his plans to push the legislation through. The ongoing uncertainty means tax practices remain in high demand and many Chilean law firms have bolstered their offerings to ensure they are fully equipped to support clients in this area.
Chile has long been regarded as one of Latin America’s wealthiest and most stable nations. This reputation has ensured that a large number of institutionalised, full-service corporate powerhouse law firms form the backbone of the market. The high calibre of international businesses operating in the country has given rise to an elite legal community built on historically solid corporate, finance and capital markets teams. High value and headline grabbing transactions are commonplace in this jurisdiction and when they happen there are a healthy number of corporate law firms with the skills and headcount to guide companies and investors throughout the lifecycle of a deal.
Carey is a notable frontrunner in the Chilean legal market. Arguably, the compact size of the market means it is only capable of supporting one such titan in terms of headcount.
A slew of full-service law firms are hot on Carey’s heels however. Wide reaching and well-rounded offerings allow firms here to serve their clients across several lucrative areas. The constitutional convention has highlighted a need for law firms to bolster their public law offerings, while tax and labour reforms have incited outfits to boost these groups too.
Mining, infrastructure and energy are three core drivers of the economy in Chile. Law firms in this market have responded accordingly. Environmental law is also a strong practice for many firms, given the importance of the area for companies in those industries. Boutiques offering in-depth expertise on environmental law have also proven popular among clients looking for alternative, cost-effective counsel.
Chile approved an innovative fintech law in 2022, which regulates the operation of fintech companies in matters relating to the securities market and crowdfunding platforms. The new law also established an open banking system for the exchange of customer information between fintech companies. Deals in the local start-up, fintech and technology sectors take place frequently, so some law firms have established dedicated teams to manage this new influx of work, whilst the local office of Dentons joined forces with Deloitte to increase its regulatory law and risk advice to companies in this space.
Full-service firms may take up the lion’s share of work in this market, but boutiques have their place here too, offering clients more bespoke and personalised legal advice. There is a clear demand for their specialised service offerings and a handful of well-regarded intellectual property and environmental law firms are listed in this guide. With in-house teams taking on more responsibilities themselves, clients are increasingly turning to external counsel for more specialised legal matters, which is good news for boutique firms.
International law firms continue to demonstrate interest in Chile, along with the three other Pacific Alliance countries. Spain’s Cuatrecasas launched its Chilean operations most recently. Since then, it has poached top talent from local and regional rivals to decorate its star-studded Santiago office with knowledgeable expertise.
Chilean law firms are among the most institutionalised in Latin America, in part because many of the country’s leading lawyers have experience working abroad. Across the board, law firm leaders are modern and forward-thinking. However, there is one notable weakness: a lack of diversity within senior ranks. Chilean firms have one of the lowest number of female partners in all of the region, despite the institutionalisation that the market has prioritised in recent years.
Santiago – primarily the business district of Las Condes – is home to a vast majority of law firms. As more firms in this market build international ties, an increasing number work closely with offices in legal markets further afield, particularly in the Pacific Alliance, but also globally.