Uruguay’s 12 years of sustained economic growth is experiencing marked slowdown after GDP growth fell to 1.9% in 2015 (from a high of 7.8% in 2010). Political and economic turmoil in neighbouring countries is largely responsible. While the recent election of Argentina’s Mauricio Macri has led to some optimism and the hope of renewed economic activity, Brazil’s instability continues to plague the region.
Despite these setbacks, the country stands out in the region for its high level of income per capita, low unemployment rate (7.4% in 2015) and considerably reduced poverty levels (reduced from 32.5% in 2006 to 9.7% in 2014). The stability of its institutions, alongside a sturdy legal framework and high levels of transparency, are just some of the factors that appeal to foreign investors. Law firms report an upsurge in the project finance work, particularly in renewable energy projects, infrastructure and agricultural exports. On the sovereign debt side, 2015 proved to be very active, as the government issued bonds worth $1.7bn – due in 2027. After several decades of stagnation, the oil-and-gas sector saw some movement with the arrival of global players Total, ExxonMobil and Statoil sharing interests in drilling block 14 (considered the deepest oil field in the world), located 400 kilometres off the coast of Uruguay.
Two firms dominate the country’s mature and sophisticated legal market. Traditional blue-chip player Guyer & Regules is a 21-partner heavyweight that stands out in all business law areas; while the first class Ferrere is a unique regional firm with over 200 legal professionals in offices across Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and most recently Ecuador. Other notable mid-sized firms have a share of the market, including Posadas, Posadas & Vecino, Hughes & Hughes, Jiménez de Aréchaga, Viana + Brause, Bergstein and Olivera Abogados.
There is also room for boutique firms, especially in the IP sector where there is an array of excellent firms including Cervieri Monsuárez y Asociados, Cikato Lawyers – Intellectual Property, Fischer Abogados, Fox & Lapenne and Fernández Secco & Asociados.
Moves have been relatively limited given recent market conditions but a one-of-a-kind lateral hire took place in early 2016 when Juan Carlos Oreggia Carrau moved from Posadas, Posadas & Vecino to competitor Hughes & Hughes, strengthening its banking and finance and corporate practices.
(Note: Unlike accountants, Uruguayan public notaries (escribanos) have the same educational requirements as lawyers. For the purposes of this chapter, such notaries are included herein.)