Despite widespread street protests at the tail-end of 2019, president Iván Duque Márquez’s government seems to have weathered the storm and managed to push through tax reforms. The staggered reduction in the rate of corporation tax is likely to enhance an already favourable business climate. Colombian firms are also likely to reap the benefits of sustained economic growth in Colombia, as GDP is expected to grow considerably in 2020 (much like in 2019).
Several areas of the market show considerable promise. Ongoing corruption investigations (as the fallout from the Odebrecht scandal is increasingly felt in Colombia) will strengthen the few firms that can offer the anti-corruption investigations and compliance practice. Better oil prices, a growing middle class and low inflation rates all bode well for firms’ transactional offerings.
Battling for that work is a legal market dominated by four large, top-tier firms, which together appear on the lions’ share of transactional work and all of which have highly regarded multidisciplinary offerings. They each have distinct international strategies. Brigard & Urrutia Abogados is staunchly independent, preferring relationships with multiple top international firms to ensure a healthy flow of referrals. Gómez-Pinzón Abogados is part of Affinitas, a network of four leading firms in the Pacific Alliance countries. Meanwhile, Posse Herrera Ruiz switched gears and ended the formal relationship it had had with Spanish firm Cuatrecasas since 2016. Posse Herrera will now focus on boosting its strong international connections as it values its independence as a way to better serve its clients. Another major player, Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría, is the first large Latin American firm that has offices in Colombia, Chile and Peru, and is backed by Spanish firm Uría Menéndez.
The market is blessed with a good number of highly competent mid-sized firms and boutiques. Baker McKenzie gives the top four a good run for their money.
Eight of the 17 firms recommended in this year’s Latin Lawyer 250 have formalised links with international firms, a higher proportion than in any other country in the region. Of these, CMS Rodríguez-Azuero is the new entrant in this chapter.
While the legal market has expanded considerably over the past decade, there is now a belief that the main influx of foreign firms is over. Meanwhile, Colombian law firm leaders are watching the Big Four accountancy firms closely. Like in much of Latin America, the Big Four’s deep pockets and considerable manpower are proving a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to commoditised work. As a consequence, elite law firms are seeking to distinguish themselves by focusing almost exclusively on high-end, sophisticated work, while mid-tier players are attaching themselves to the kind of global law firms that can better compete with the Big Four’s resources. This is leading to fierce competition for talent as well as clients.
Bogotá remains firmly the heart of Colombia’s legal community, but expanding into the country’s other main cities of Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla may be worthwhile. Brigard Urrutia opened an office in Cali in 2017 and in Barranquilla in 2019, and it has a presence in Medellín through a strategic relationship with a local firm. Medellín is also host to Gómez-Pinzón, Posse Herrera and Cavelier Abogados offices. The last two are also present in Barranquilla, and so is PPU, while employment boutique Godoy Córdoba Abogados, a member of Littler Global, has offices in all those cities and in the capital.