Uruguay has enjoyed an extended period of stability and economic growth for the past 20 years. However, the pace has slowed in recent times. President Luis Lacalle Pou was inaugurated in March 2020 with a conservative coalition that promised to rein in government spending and reduce the fiscal deficit. After a difficult 2020, in no small part due to the global health emergency, the IMF has predicted growth of 3% for 2021.
Meanwhile, the investment-friendly economy of the past few decades has provided for a legal market with considerable clout. The boom years fostered firms with transactional skills. Renewable energy opportunities have sparked an uptick in project financing while M&A lawyers have since benefited from the sale of wind and solar farms. The country has also seen an increase in infrastructure PPPs and concessions, which have grown since President Pou pledged both to liberalise certain sectors and to find alternatives for the financing of public works. Meanwhile, the liberalisation of cannabis in 2013 increased administrative work and investment opportunities, inspiring firms to deepen their expertise and offerings in this field.
Uruguay has a mature legal market, with firms that enjoy international profiles and are somewhat larger than the country’s size and GDP might hint at. The market is dominated by the two largest firms, Ferrere and Guyer & Regules. The former has long been synonymous with regional expansion, although that growth stalled recently after its entire Ecuadorian partnership left to start a new firm. The move followed four partners leaving the firm’s Bolivian office with some 50 lawyers to launch a new outfit. Ferrere still retains a small operation in La Paz. At home though, it continues its neck-and-neck race with its major rival.
Despite the dominance of these two firms, there are also highly rated alternatives and these firms leverage their smaller headcounts to give clients specialised counsel across a range of areas.
To complement their Montevideo headquarters, several firms have offices in the city’s free trade zones, and in the resort city of Punta del Este. Ferrere remains the only Uruguayan firm to pursue international expansion and that looks unlikely to change anytime soon, with no other Uruguayan firms planning international openings. In the same vein, while Dentons’ arrival in the country was not a major surprise given its strategy, no one expects more foreign firms to be setting up shop in Uruguay in the near future. In 2021, the firm opened a new office in Montevideo’s free-trade zone, its second outpost in Uruguay since it launched there just over a year ago.