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Legal market overview

Venezuela continues to experience grave economic difficulties and these have only been exacerbated by the global drop in oil prices, adding to the fiscal pressure on the Maduro administration, which, holding to the socialist agenda of the Chavez period, has reacted with ever more state-interventionist policies. These, in turn, have led many foreign investors to avoid Venezuela or withdraw their investments. Foreign exchange controls make cross-border transactions difficult, and price controls affect almost every economic activity. The resulting shortages in food and other basic necessities have led to political protests and increasing black market activity, leading to even more pressure on the government.

The crisis is also affecting 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.

The four leading full-service law firms remain Baker & McKenzie SC, D’Empaire Reyna Abogados, Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque and Norton Rose Fulbright; which achieve high rankings in almost every practice area. There has been relatively little movement in the market in terms of law firm mergers, spin-offs, and lateral partner hires. Notable exceptions are the merger of WDA legal, S.C. with tax boutique Fraga & Viloria, S.C.; the move of public law expert Alejandro Gallotti from Torres, Plaz & Araujo to Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque; and the move of arbitration expert Marcos Carrillo from Lloan & Asociados to Araquereyna. In light of such challenging economic conditions, it is unsurprising that few law firms are investing; to some degree the legal market is in a suspended mode and awaits better times.

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