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Legal market overview
Chile has one of South America's strongest and most open economies and a sophisticated legal market that is increasingly specialised and competitive. The country's dynamism attracts a large number of international investors and allows a growing number of new and modern firms to win a respectable market share. The oldest and largest outfits have consequently had to make a special commitment to innovation and creativity to retain their dominant position in the legal field. Carey leads the way in terms of specialisation and institutionalisation and is the largest player on the market with over 120 lawyers; it competes at the summit with Claro y Cia, Philippi, Yrarrázaval, Pulido & Brunner, Cariola Diez Perez-Cotapos y Cia and Barros & Errázuriz, the latter being the only latecomer among the most prominent firms. A well-established group of full service firms sit just outside the top-five league and offer a quality alternative to the biggest firms. They often have a key strength in a particular area of practice such as mining and energy, corporate, banking or litigation; Prieto y Cia, Guerrero, Olivos, Novoa y Errazuriz, Morales & Besa and Bofill Mir & Alvarez Jana Abogados all fit this description. A number of highly specialised outfits further stiffen the competition together with boutique firms; all of them challenging the predominance of full-service firms in the litigation, energy, insurance, IP and environmental sectors.
Boosted by its judicious and long-lasting economic policies and democratic reform, which led to its recent accession to OECD membership, Chile's strong economic expansion has nevertheless started to slow as a consequence of the global financial turmoil, which hit consumer confidence and tightened financing conditions. Repercussions include less activity in cross-border transactional work, although the large corporate firms continued to be instructed on high-profile multimillion-dollar deals such as the $3.7bn merger between Tam Linhas Aereas and Lan Airlines and the $790m acquisition of Belgian company Magotteau by the Chilean business group Sigdo Koppers. Driven by the strength of its mining industry and its leading position for copper production worldwide, the country remains a global and busy platform for bank and long-term project financing – and as a result firms that combine a corporate offering with an energy expertise remain both active and well positioned in the market. In addition, Chile's limited domestic hydrocarbons resources have led to an important alternative energy sector, with a large number of new hydroelectric generation projects being developed and governmental incentives further boosting this industry sector. As a consequence, and despite direct foreign investment having been primarily focused on the mining sector over the last year, firms report a steady demand for renewable energy-related advice.
A recent labour reform, new subcontracting legislation and increasing enforcement activity by the Chilean Labour office have generated a new flow of labour and employment work for firms, which have been instructed to review companies' labour policies in order to reduce the risk of fines and future claims.