Legal market overview
With the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March 2013 and the victory of his appointed successor, Nicolás Maduro in April’s elections, occurring amidst rumours of electoral rigging, Venezuela remains in a state of flux. Nonetheless, many of Venezuela’s lawyers hope that the new president might usher in a more business-friendly period.
Despite the country’s vast oil resources, new investors prepared to brave Venezuela’s current business environment remain in short supply. In response, the legal market has become acclimatised to limited M&A and financing activity, with Venezuela’s practitioners compensating for the dearth of transactional activity by advising on the numerous state expropriations that occurred during the Chávez era – principally in contentious-administrative, litigious and arbitral instructions. Such was the number of cases lodged at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) that Venezuela eventually withdrew from the ICSID convention in 2012.
New labour legislation ensuring shorter working hours, longer periods of maternity leave and pensions for all Venezuelans, has also meant increased levels of compliance and advisory work for law firms with regard to the law’s effect on clients’ businesses.
The UK-based firm Norton Rose LLP arrived in Latin America in 2012 via its merger with Macleod Dixon, thereby gaining a substantial foothold in Venezuela (and Colombia) where the Canadian firm had maintained offices. A subsequent strategic development saw Norton Rose, LLP combine with US-based firm Fulbright & Jaworski LLP in June 2013 to become Norton Rose Fulbright, the tie-up deepening the firm’s capabilities still further, particularly in oil and gas.
Notwithstanding the lack of new foreign investment in Venezuela, a number of law firms have continued to invest in certain practice areas. In mid-2012, D’Empaire Reyna Bermúdez Abogados welcomed the widely respected tax lawyer Humberto Romero-Muci as partner, together with his team of nine practitioners, from former Deloitte member-firm Romero-Muci & Asociados, Despacho de Abogados, where he was a co-founder. The firm also ramped up its environmental law offering when it incorporated Francisco Bolinaga and his team from Bolinaga Levy Márquez & Canova (which ceased to exist in October 2012), where he was a founding partner and head of the environmental practice; as well as labour law expert Victorino Márquez, who was a founding partner and head of the defunct firm’s labour law department. Araquereyna also benefited from Bolinaga Levy Márquez & Canova’s demise when it welcomed public law team head Antonio Canova and Luis Alfonso Herrera as partners of the firm.
Other firms have also made new hires. Despacho de Abogados Miembro de Hogan Lovells appointed Diogenes Bermudez as counsel; formerly at Petrobras Venezuela, his practice focuses upon infrastructure and project finance, particularly within the Latin American oil and gas sector. Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque recently incorporated Jesús Alberto Sol Gil from KPMG’s Venezuelan legal branch, where he led the tax law and tax disputes practices.