Guatemala’s legal market stands out in Central America. Its comparatively large economy and closeness to Latin America’s second biggest economy, Mexico, are likely reasons why several sizable local firms are busy enough to thrive without the need for the regionalisation strategies adopted by most other firms in Central America. In fact, several of the individual firms remain among the country’s largest, such as QIL+4 Abogados and Carrillo y Asociados. Both are strong performers and rely on alliances or referral strategies rather than a network of offices in the region. They compete comfortably with familiar regional names like Aguilar Castillo Love, Arias, BLP and Consortium Legal.
Still, Guatemalan firms are not immune to the pressures of regionalisation. Although the country’s economy may be far larger – and has grown faster – than its Central American neighbours, many multinationals plan regionally in Central America, not locally. As a result, even the strongest single market firms are reconsidering their strategies. Once staunchly local, Mayora & Mayora SC – one of the country’s most respected local players – opened an office in Honduran capital Tegucigalpa in 2016 and an additional San Pedro Sula office in 2019, while it also entered El Salvador in 2017. The firm now has its eye on Costa Rica. Its partnership believes an alliance-led strategy is no longer sufficient for major transactional firms in Guatemala. Costa Rica-based BLP has also shaken things up. It stormed into the country in 2016, poaching three partners and 10 associates and splitting an established family firm that now operates as part of LatamLex.
Guatemala has not escaped international firms’ attention either. Global labour and employment firm Littler Mendelson PC has a presence in the country through a Swiss Verein with Costa Rica-based BDS Asesores. More recently, Dentons Muñoz also opened a small outpost in the capital. However, it is EY Law that now has the largest presence of any international outfit in Guatemala. It integrated regional firm Pacheco Coto in 2018, adding substantially to its ranks and local reputation.
As for practice area focus, the country’s legal market is known for its strong transactional capabilities. Corporate and corporate finance are strong suits. A good number of lawyers have substantial experience in multijurisdictional transactional work (in both local and regional outfits).
Corruption scandals have engulfed the local market over the past few years, and a low point saw former president Jimmy Morales expel the UN’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in early 2019. Alejandro Giammattei was elected, on his fourth consecutive attempt, in 2019, and replaced Morales as President in January 2020. Boosting the economy and creating jobs are high on the new government’s agenda as well as continuing to fight corruption. A new national commission against corruption to replace CICIG has been suggested. Senior Guatemalan lawyers have expressed hope that the new President will improve the business environment and help increase investments.
Growing awareness of anti-corruption work has created a new premium for compliance services, alongside growing demand for tax expertise. These newer areas complement law firms’ existing capabilities in litigation and arbitration. Companies will also find lawyers who are proficient in IP and labour law, as well as the other practice areas one would expect from firms operating in an economy of this size.
Unlike elsewhere in Central America, firms have not seen fit to open offices outside of the capital of Guatemala City.