Legal market overview in Argentina

The election of President Mauricio Macri in 2015 was widely heralded as a new dawn for Argentina; his centre-right government promised to usher in long sought-after stability for the country’s famously volatile economy and restore its global reputation. Unfortunately, the new administration’s ambitious reform agenda has not quite gone to plan.

In another torrid year for Argentina’s finances, GDP dropped by 1.5% in 2018 and the peso lost 50.5% of its value against the US dollar – it dropped another 19% in the first five months of 2019. To add to the country’s ills, inflation is still running at over 50% and unemployment is stuck at over 9%. As the country waits with baited breath for elections in November – elections in which Macri’s populist predecessor Cristina Kirchner plans to run for vice president - it is with the sense that the Macri experiment could have run its course.

Although the government’s efforts to reform the economy may so far have faltered, its attempts to modernise its legal and regulatory frameworks have been more successful.

In a major development for business law firms, Argentina enacted a new corporate criminal liability law at the beginning of 2018. The law, which brings the country into line with international anti-corruption standards, establishes that companies are criminally liable for corrupt acts committed by their owners, directors, executives, employees and third parties acting on their behalf, if the crime benefits the company. Firms are ramping up their corporate compliance offerings accordingly to meet increased demand.

On the competition side, May 2018 saw new rules come into force touching on several key areas of antitrust law. The headline changes include: merger notification thresholds have been raised significantly; a new leniency programme has been introduced; and increased fines for anti-competitive behaviour have been promised.

In addition, the country is pressing ahead with its comprehensive infrastructure agenda, which included the recent launch of the third round of its renewable energy programme, RenovAr 3 — the new round aims to award around 400MW of renewable energy projects. The government also continues to roll out its $17bn road upgrade programme.

In terms of the legal market specifically, while not reaching the volume of splits seen during 2017/18, there have been some high-profile breakaways during the past 12 months. In 2018, Krause Abogados opened its doors. Named for managing partner Maximiliano Krause, formerly international trade head at Tanoira Cassagne Abogados, the firm also includes Federico Basile, former labour head at Bomchil. In addition, two specialist partners decided to jump ship to establish their own practices: leading arbitrator Guido Tawil left Bomchil to become an arbitrator, while litigator Leandro Caputo left Bruchou, Fernández Madero & Lombardi to form Leandro Caputo Abogados.

In addition, 2018 saw global brand DLA Piper Argentina enter the market through a co-operation agreement with legacy local firm Cabanellas Etchebarne Kelly. This was followed by the September 2019 announcement of the arrival of fellow global-player Dentons via an association with mid-sized firm Rattagan Macchiavello Arocena, long best known for its environmental practice.

In a key example of the market’s growing emphasis on compliance matters following the introduction of the new corporate criminal liability law, Tanoira Cassagne Abogados launched a new compliance and anti-corruption unit in 2019; the group will be led by sector specialist Paula Honisch.

Argentina’s highly competitive legal market is dominated by a number of full-service heavyweights, namely Marval, O'Farrell & Mairal, Pérez Alati, Grondona, Benites & Arntsen, Bruchou, Fernández Madero & Lombardi and Beccar Varela, with increasingly stiff competition coming from Allende & Brea and Mitrani Caballero & Ruiz Moreno Abogados. Other members of the chasing pack includes sophisticated medium-sized firms such as Martínez de Hoz & Rueda (a 2018 spin-off from what is now Pérez Alati, Grondona, Benites & Arntsen), Bomchil  and Estudio O'Farrell. In an intersting development in tough market conditions, the latter firm has moved to develop an IP practice with the hire of former legal advisor to the Border Control Subsecretariat, Estanislao Mezzadri.

As in all mature markets, Argentina also boasts a number of specialist firms that excel in certain niche areas. For banking and finance work, Salaverri, Burgio & Wetzler Malbran and Tavarone, Rovelli, Salim & Miani rank highly. On the IP front, Ferrer Reyes, Tellechea & Bouche, G. Breuer and Richelet & Richelet are key names. Furthermore, Funes De Rioja & Asociados shines in labour and employment, while Rosso Alba, Francia & Asociados and Teijeiro & Ballone, Abogados are both stand-out performers in the tax area.

Few global firms have a base on the ground in Argentina, although the above-mentioned arrivals of DLA Piper  and Dentons constitute a notable new development. In addition, Baker McKenzie has a long-standing presence in the country, acting on both local and cross-border work; and both Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP (via its associated firm Curtis - Fernandez Quiroga, Ayarragaray & Ocampo) are also present.