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Legal market overview
The legal market in Bolivia remains relatively modest in size and is dominated by the prominent full service firms Guevara & Gutierrez S.C., Servicios Legales, CR & F Rojas Abogados, Moreno-Baldivieso, Attorneys At Law and Bufete Aguirre Soc. Civ. Abogados, with the largest fielding 36 lawyers. They all win instructions from major international companies investing in the country, even though recent measures taken by the Morales administration have markedly discouraged private foreign investment, slowed the economy and sown uncertainty in the market. The Bolivian State enacted a new Constitution in February 2009, since when the government has developed increasingly centralised public policies that are affecting many industries. In 2011 President Morales symbolically announced the repeal of Supreme Decree 21060, the promulgation of which, in 1985, had established the country's market-based, neo-liberal economic framework. He further proclaimed the revision of all current mining, banking and investment laws, with new legislation being developed in a bid to boost state control over those sectors of the economy. In line with such policies, Morales has, since his election in 2006, seized companies in various industries (including hydrocarbons, electricity, telecoms and pension funds), as well as re-nationalising a number of mining facilities. These measures have altered the type of work undertaken by lawyers – particularly those specialised in the energy and natural resources sectors, where oil and gas transactions have suffered a drastic decrease despite Bolivia's possession of the second largest natural gas reserves in South America. For the most part, law firms have retrenched to maintaining their clients' rights and interests in relation to their energy operations, while investor-state arbitration against the government (despite the administration's withdrawal from ICSID), is a new and notable bright spot for the most international outfits such as Moreno-Baldivieso, Attorneys At Law, Guevara & Gutierrez S.C., Servicios Legales and CR & F Rojas Abogados.
After going through a downturn during the last few years, the mining industry, which remains the mainstay of the Bolivian economy, has begun to see a substantial increase in operations of late. However, the announcement in mid-2012 of plans to withdraw South American Silver's Mallku Khota mining concession and nationalise the reserves is likely to dampen activity once more.
Nationalisations, along with the frequent strikes across a range of sectors, generate a constant flow of labour and employment work and the legal industry has been particularly busy recently with new labour regulations that have further affected the management of day-to-day business in Bolivia. The boutique firm Estudio Jurídico Carrasco & Carrasco – Abogados Asociados focuses exclusively on labour work, and is just one of a growing number of boutique operations in specialised sectors. Others include the Estudio Juridico Orpan, Landivar & Landivar Attorneys At Law and DAK, all in the growing IP sector, and Benítez Rivas, Pérez & Asociados in the tax field.
Although most firms are based in the nation's (administrative) capital La Paz, a number (including Indacochea Asociados, Abogados Sociedad Civil, new firm Becerra de la Roca Donoso & Asociados and international player Ferrere) have taken the strategic decision to open offices near their clients' headquarters in the booming economic centre of Santa Cruz- a location particularly favoured by firms with a focus on the energy sector.