In June 2022, Gustavo Petro was elected as Colombia’s president, he will assume office in August 2022, as Colombia’s first truly left-wing president.
Petro has promised to tackle social and economic inequality in Colombia. The incoming president is also likely to reshape Colombian foreign policy and analysts expect he will modify relations with the US and some degree of diplomatic relations with Colombia’s neighbour Venezuela. The latter is seen as an attempt to reopen the border between the two nations, as well as increase trade flows.
He inherits a complex economic picture; although Colombia is projected to experience impressive GDP growth this year (the IMF predicts real GDP growth of 5.8% in 2022), it nonetheless faces high inflation rates (triggered by global economic headwinds, including the Russia–Ukraine war and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic) and high levels of public debt.
Colombia also faces the prospect of capital flight, with foreign investors concerned about possible tax hikes and about reforms to energy policy, which may reduce the activities of the hydrocarbons sector in the country.
Infrastructure, both digital and logistical, continues to be an influential force in Colombian dealmaking and keeping lawyers busy. The country’s fourth generation (4G) infrastructure programme has long supplied an ample workload for law firms steering infrastructure deals aimed at renovating the country’s road network.
Meanwhile, a similar trend is feeding through to the telecoms sector, with the country planning to roll out high-speed 5G internet networks in the near future. International investors are already throwing their hats in the ring for the digital infrastructure assets after Colombia recently unveiled its ‘Plan 5G’ initiative to provide access to faster networks across the country. The programme aims to close the digital gap that exists between Colombia and more developed markets.
Project finance departments in this chapter are well fed, while transactional groups scoop up the decent flow of corporate and finance work. The few firms that can offer the anti-corruption investigations and compliance practice know-how have had the advantage in cases arising from ongoing arbitration and litigation disputes (as the fallout from the Odebrecht scandal continues to be felt in Colombia). Gómez-Pinzón’s decision in 2022 to enter an alliance with a local white-collar crime boutique (appointing its founder as an external counsel), reflects the relevance of investigations work in Colombia.
As venture capital companies and fintech innovation drum up momentum in Latin America, Colombia is a respectable player in that field. Local law outfits have pivoted towards more innovative private equity and M&A work.
Competing for that work is a legal market dominated by four large, top-tier, elite firms, which together feature in the lion’s share of transactional work and all of which have highly regarded multidisciplinary offerings. They each have distinct international strategies. Brigard Urrutia favours relationships with multiple top international firms to ensure a healthy flow of referrals. Gómez-Pinzón is part of Affinitas, a network of four leading firms in the Pacific Alliance countries. Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (PPU) has offices in Colombia, Chile and Peru, and is backed by Spanish firm Uría Menéndez. Meanwhile, Posse Herrera Ruiz continues to focus on its international ties after putting an end to a four-year relationship it had with a Spanish law firm at the start of 2020.
The market is stocked with a host of highly competent midsized firms and boutiques. Baker McKenzie’s presence here gives the top four a run for their money.
Half of the 14 Highly Recommended firms in this year’s Latin Lawyer 250 are associated with international firms, a higher proportion than in any other country in the region. Of these, Cuatrecasas (Colombia) is the most recent entrant in this chapter. 2022 saw the firm substantially increase the number of partners in its Bogotá office, through both organic growth and lateral hires.
While the legal market has expanded considerably over the past decade, there has been speculation that the main influx of foreign firms is over – although Iberian outfit Ecija’s recent expansion into the Andean country is an indication that Colombia’s mid-sized market is still on the minds of international players. Dentons’ recent addition of a second Colombian office is further proof that international players still view Colombia as an important market. Meanwhile, Colombian law firm leaders are watching the Big Four professional services firms closely. As in much of Latin America, the Big Four’s deep pockets and considerable workforce are proving a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to commoditised work. As a consequence, law firms are seeking to differentiate themselves by focusing almost exclusively on high-profile, 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 for clients.
Bogotá remains firmly at the heart of Colombia’s legal community, but a decent chunk of the firms in this chapter has offices in the country’s other main cities of Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla.