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Editorial

Venezuela’s economic, social and political situation have moved from poor to critical. The economy has contracted further and inflation rates have reached the triple-digit area. Continuing low oil prices have increased fiscal pressure on the government, which, holding to the socialist legacy of the Chavez period, has reacted with ever more state-interventionist policies. Foreign exchange controls make it very difficult to import goods, and price controls often dictate that basic goods have to be sold at less than what it costs to make them. The resulting shortages in food and other basic necessities have led to political protests and increasing black market activity. A drought has brought even more problems: the country is heavily dependent on hydroelectric power and low water-levels and flow-rates have made power cuts necessary. The people have expressed their discontent with the government by giving a parliamentary majority to the opposition in the National Assembly elections in December 2015. However, one of Chavez’s legacies is that power lies predominantly with the executive and its directly elected president, Nicolás Maduro; as a result the opposition has started procedures to initiate a referendum to recall the president from office.

The crisis also continues to affect the legal market. Many law firms are following the example of commercial companies by downsizing. Finance and M&A practices, in particular, are suffering from a drop in transactional activity, and there is widespread pressure on fee rates. On the other hand, the crisis has also led to increased demand for legal services in areas such as public law, tax, labour, and dispute resolution, as clients seek advice on how to cope with increasingly demanding regulation and tax laws, as well as assistance with downsizing and layoffs and help with disputes, where cost-effective arbitration and mediation are particularly sought after. In light of such challenging conditions, it is unsurprising that few law firms are investing. There is very little movement in the legal market; to some degree it appears to be in a suspended mode and awaits better times. The top four full-service law firms remain Baker & McKenzie SC, D’Empaire Reyna Abogados, Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque, and Norton Rose Fulbright. They achieve a high ranking in almost every practice area.

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