With law firm regionalisation high on the agenda across Central America, the El Salvador chapter is no different. Firms here have embraced this shift, with several now operating with an established presence in several neighbouring countries. Regional trailblazer, Arias, for example, has its roots in El Salvador, where it continues to dominate the market. Another firm pursuing a regional strategy is found in San Salvador-based Sáenz & Asociados, although with smaller offices. On a local level, no firms have seen the need to expand outside of the country’s capital, San Salvador.
Cultivating a presence in El Salvador is also an important part of the regional strategy for Central American firms based elsewhere. Consortium Legal, for instance, has a well-established presence in San Salvador. Despite being a newer player in this market, Costa Rica-based BLP has made a substantial splash in the country, led by a former Arias partner and finance maestro. Regional firms have also entered this market by absorbing local outfits, such as Mayora & Mayora SC acquiring local banking and finance outfit Telles & Asociados and rebranding as Mayora & Mayora SC (El Salvador). Despite widespread expansion throughout the region, firms here are now also focused on consolidation of existing offices, while still looking towards stable growth.
Not all firms in this market have sought to establish outfits across the region, however. Romero Pineda & Asociados, by contrast, has continued to favour an expansive network of alliances over physical expansion, with this not stopping the firm from comfortably competing for work with its multijurisdictional counterparts. A new regional set-up also launched in recent years, after local firm Valdés, Suárez & Velasco Abogados formed Alta by combining with Costa Rica’s Batalla, Guatemalan stronghold QIL+4 Abogados and Melara & Asociados in Honduras.
Practice area specialisation is a common occurrence in El Salvador, with lawyers particularly busy across tax, labour and IP mandates in 2022. Litigation is another popular source of work for many in this market, while this year has also marked an increase in regulatory and compliance mandates. Off the back of a few big corruption scandals involving former Salvadorian presidents, awareness of compliance has continued to increase, with law firms dedicating more resources to the practice as well as to internal policies. Increased environmental work, arising out of a recently implemented water resources law, is also expected to continue.
Nonetheless, this specialisation does not signify a shortage of experienced transactional lawyers, with extensive expertise in corporate and M&A work involving cross-border transactions. El Salvador’s largest outfits boast strong banking and financing practices, making them well equipped to handle the market’s increasing amount of fintech and cryptocurrency deals, particularly in the wake of El Salvador becoming the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender in 2021.
The election of Nayib Bukele in 2019 marked a major shift as the first candidate to come from neither of the two traditional parties to take office in a very long time. As the first Salvadorian president in three decades to have a congressional majority, his popular approval is evident. His methods have been criticised though, particularly his move to bring the military into parliament to force its members to vote through a loan deal to buy security equipment – a move associated with the country’s past of authoritarianism and civil war.
Although El Salvador has been facing lacklustre economic growth for some years now, the president’s efforts have been focused on tackling the country’s security issues and the prominent level of violence. Despite this, the country has seen growth so far in 2022, with a GDP increase of 3%.