Latin America continues to be a region rich in opportunities for foreign investors and multinationals looking to take advantage of its wealth of natural resources, growing population and burgeoning sectors including renewable energy and technology. It is unsurprising, therefore, that international firms have been making a concerted effort to carve out practice areas dedicated to the region, and the presence of major players has continued to increase in some of its biggest markets.
The wide range of industries, fast-moving economic cycles and near-constant political turnover in Latin America means that firms must be able to adapt quickly to meet client demand. As such, this chapter lists those outfits that would never normally compete directly with one another – core transactional practices, offshore firms and European corporate partners – but who can all claim to be experts in their field.
Within this list of firms, several names stand out for their long-established practices dedicated to Latin American work. Thanks to their foresight and early arrival in the market, these outfits have built up in-depth knowledge of local markets, and boast strong relationships with major local corporations, banks and law firms. This group is largely formed of the leading East Coast firms, which continue to invest heavily in Latin America. While each firm offers something unique to clients, these firms boast some of the most impressive talent dedicated to the region, mostly in transactional areas. They compete with each other heavily for high-value, sophisticated work and have proven themselves capable of handling even the most complicated deals.
Four of the five UK Magic Circle firms are listed here too, proving that it is not just the New York titans that lead the way in Latin America. Both UK and US firms have offices in the region, with many opting for an outpost in São Paulo, where a compact team of lawyers are based to handle the most important matters on the ground alongside local counterparts. For the same reason, top-tier Latin American firms covet any referral relationship they have with these international players and consider the opportunity to place lawyers on their foreign associate programmes as the greatest privilege.
The top Spanish names also have a long-standing presence in the region. In recent years, they have established local law offices in key Latin American cities – or, in the case of Uría Menéndez, forged ties with a top-tier firm with offices in multiple jurisdictions. The local offices of these Spanish firms have caught the eye of local counterparts, winning their place in their respective country chapters in this guide. Cuatrecasas now has offices in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, all of which have grown exponentially since their launches.
Many law firms intent on establishing a global presence include Latin America in their expansion plans. Baker McKenzie LLP was first to the party, followed by determinedly global firms such as DLA Piper, CMS and Dentons. The latter now has offices in every Latin American country, bar the Dominican Republic and Paraguay. Most have achieved this ambitious goal by merging or forging alliances with existing local firms. For instance, in recent years Holland & Knight LLP and Thompson & Knight LLP merged, combining offices in Bogotá, Mexico City and Monterrey.
The most popular destinations for foreign firms remain in the Pacific Alliance – Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile – as well as, of course, Brazil. There is a large cohort of US, UK and Spanish firms with offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but they are limited by the local Bar association to only practising the law of their home jurisdiction.
Just as the number of firms competing for work in the region has expanded recently, so have the areas of focus for those who have been there for some time. We now see New York firms formerly known for their capital markets work poaching energy partners from Houston firms; Miami firms offering New York law at Florida rates; and almost all competing to land a spot on the steady stream of compliance and white-collar crime work from the region.
While New York remains key for a successful Latin America practice group, Miami has emerged as arguably the second-most important US city for firms wanting to attract work from the region. Miami’s proximity to Latin America and its absence of a state income tax makes the Floridian city a natural home for many businesses operating throughout the region. The firms there have become commercial partners for these companies, in more than just corporate work. For example, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP’s office is home to the chair of the firm’s US and Latin America international arbitration practice groups. Winston & Strawn LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and King & Spalding LLP all opened the doors of their Miami offices in 2022, now home to both corporate and disputes-focused partners.
Washington, DC-based practices have long been important in the fields of trade, project finance, sovereign financing and arbitration in particular. In Europe, London still houses some noted practitioners – particularly for the insurance industry – and Paris is an important base for arbitration work. The main Spanish firms and a sizeable number of UK and US firms count Madrid among their offices.
As Latin American companies have become more sophisticated, they are increasingly taking advantage of the benefits of offshore financing, turning to firms based in the Cayman Islands or BVI as they do so. A new section for International Counsel - Offshore profiles those law firms in the Latin Lawyer 250.