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Legal market overview
The current picture of Uruguay is a world apart from that of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the country lost its investment grade status. It has, however, emerged more robust from the region's financial crisis, and is increasingly viewed as a safe investment destination. 2011 saw the largest single foreign direct investment into the country in its history, in the form of joint-venture company Montes del Plata, which is building a 1.3m tonnes per year pulp mill that will begin operations in 2013. The beginnings of an energy sector have been evidenced in two bidding rounds for Uruguay's offshore exploration blocks (co-ordinated by state owned energy company Ancap), the first of which began in 2008. Despite the sustainability of an energy sector being uncertain, there is little doubt that firms (especially in the short term) will benefit from these developments. Commentators note that an infrastructure strong enough to support the operations and investment coming in to the country is lacking. Developments on this front are more uncertain, although there are legislative proposals for the introduction of a public-private partnership finance models to be employed in areas such as transport, social, and tourism-related infrastructure.
In the legal sphere, Ferrere and Guyer & Regules retain their longstanding predominance in the small but thriving Uruguayan market, particularly in corporate and banking matters. Ferrere is the larger of the two and distinguishes itself with its ‘US-style structure'. Traditionally at its strongest in corporate matters, it also continues to gain clients, mandates and market position in the banking and finance sector year-on -year. In addition, it has developed a unique regional footprint with offices in Paraguay and Bolivia. Guyer & Regules has longevity and an impeccable track record in the market, in addition to a well-established reputation as ‘the go-tobanking firm'. It recently celebrated its 100th year in the market showing only signs of continued vigour; certainly prestige, quality and ‘blue-chip' service remain synonymous with the Guyer & Regules name. Ultimately the two firms simply have distinct cultures and both offer clients a ‘fantastic degree of professionalism' rarely available in jurisdictions of this size.
The reputations and size of Guyer & Regules and Ferrere should not overshadow the ‘international quality' of a number of other prestigious Uruguayan firms including Posadas, Posadas & Vecino, Hughes & Hughes, Jimenez de Arechaga, Viana & Brause, and Estudio Bergstein. A noteworthy development in the market came with the establishment of the corporate and finance-focused Bragard & Durán Abogados in June 2011. Founded by Andrés Durán Hareau, formerly of Hughes & Hughes, and Jean Jacques Bragard, formerly of Sanguinetti & Foderé Abogados, it has an impressive client roster and has already been instructed on a number of notable transactions; the development of the firm is being watched with interest.