Legal market overview
It has been over a year since the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the appointment of his successor Nicolás Maduro, yet Venezuela remains at an impasse. The hope that Maduro’s election win might usher in a more business-friendly environment is a distant memory; despite the country’s vast oil resources, new investors remain in short supply. The country has experienced a wave of protests as Venezuelans contend with rampant crime, high inflation and food shortages.
Venezuela’s upheaval has also impacted the legal market, with many lawyers unable to reach their offices during the worst of the demonstrations in early 2014. Nonetheless, Venezuela’s practitioners are compensating for the dearth of transactional activity by advising on an array of administrative issues across an increasingly broad array of regulated industries, as well as litigation and ongoing arbitral matters arising from the numerous state expropriations that occurred during the Chávez era. Although the country’s competition authority has been inactive in recent years – owing largely to the deputy Superintendent post being vacant and M&A deals being reviewed on a voluntary basis – Venezuela’s competition law practices remain active with compliance work.
Baker & McKenzie SC, D’Empaire Reyna Abogados and Norton Rose Fulbright all dominate on the transactional as well as contentious front, while global practice Despacho de Abogados Miembro de Hogan Lovells has an active banking and finance deal pipeline. Other strong domestic law firms include frontrunner Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque, Mendoza Palacios Acedo Borjas Páez Pumar & Cía, Rodner, Martínez & Asociados, Tinoco, Travieso, Planchart & Núñez and Travieso Evans Arria Rengel & Paz.
Although international firms like Baker & McKenzie SC field strong intellectual property teams, the IP legal market is dominated by specialist local practices such as Estudio Antequera Parilli & Rodríguez, Bentata Abogados, Bolet & Terrero, and De Sola, Pate & Brown. Markven Propiedad Intelectual S.C. and Marquez, Henriquez, Ortin & Valedon also have impressive teams.
In light of the difficult times Venezuela is experiencing, it is unsurprising that few law firms are investing in lateral partner hires, or that spin-offs and new firm launches are few and far between. Notable exceptions include specialist employment law firm LABOR – Gestión de Gente, which was founded in June 2013 by former head of employment at Palacios, Torres, Crespo & Korody, Carlos Rivera Salazar; and Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque, whose labour law team more than doubled in size during 2013 with the incorporation of seven employment experts from boutique law firm Mangieri Benavente & Asociados. Indeed Hoet Peláez has adopted a strategy of staffing to deal with the exigencies of the current political climate and has also grown its administrative capability.
Internal promotions saw Norton Rose Fulbright’s civil and commercial litigation associate Pedro Saghy promoted to of counsel in 2013, while at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque, IP expert Alicia Molero was made-up to partner. In other key developments, Baker & McKenzie SC’s Diego Bustillos (formerly a leading individual for intellectual property) retired from the practice.