The Legal 500 > Latin America > Chile

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Legal Market Overview

One of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies in recent decades, Chile (the world’s leading copper producer) grew by just 1.1% percent in 2019, its poorest performance in a decade. This was largely the result of extreme social unrest in late 2019, initially sparked off by an increase in the Santiago Metro’s subway fare, but grounded in increased living costs and increasing inequality levels.

By the start of 2020, with the situation normalised and the National Congress promising a national referendum over the creation of a new constitution, the economy was forecast to achieve growth of 1.2% by the end of the year and 2.5% by December 2021. Such expectations were subsequently severely impacted by the global outbreak of COVID19 (which officially reached Chile in March 2020) and the resulting pandemic and containment measures, which greatly affected productivity levels across most sectors. Consequently, Chile’s law firms, like most other law firms around the world, physically shut up shop, with their lawyers continuing to service clients remotely as best they could.

Prior to the pandemic, Chile’s lawyers remained active in traditional areas such as corporate law, finance, energy, mining and projects, along with environmental matters, labor law, dispute resolution and tax, among many others. In recognition of the Chilean market’s continued maturation and the new, specialized areas upon which the country’s top firms are increasingly instructed, The Legal 500 has this year introduced seven new chapters, namely: bankruptcy, insolvency and restructuring; capital markets; consumer and advertising law; compliance; data privacy; life sciences; and venture capital.

Chile’s leading practices have also been busy advising on a raft of recent reforms proposed by Chile’s government, such as the implementation of Chile’s Labour Reform, which simplifies collective bargaining on behalf of unions and strengthens their role in the negotiation process, as well as introducing formal regulations for employing and protecting student workers. Further key legislation providing Chile’s lawyers with advisory work includes the country’s 2019 update of its banking regulations, which among other requirements, involved new banking capital and reserve obligations.

In other areas, the Chilean Consumer Protection Law was amended in late 2018 to increase the Consumer Protection Agency’s powers. In response, several law firms in Chile have established consumer law practices, which typically include assistance with clients’ compliance systems.

In January 2020, the Chilean Congress also approved a revised draft Tax Bill , which (after substantial amendments) brought in changes to marginal income tax rates, and a new tax for individual taxpayers who own real estate property in Chile.

Other upcoming legislation that will further provide law firms with ongoing mandates includes data privacy and protection legislation, which allows for the creation of a Data Protection Agency to oversee regulations, penalties, and enforcement. Final approval is expected towards the end of 2020; the reform is being carefully monitored by law firms looking to prepare clients for changes in the use of personal data.

Chile’s legal market has remained as active as ever. In April 2020, Iberian firm Cuatrecasas completed the establishment of its initial Latin America footprint with the opening of a Santiago office. Arbitration specialist Cristián Conejero Roos rejoined the firm to head the office, taking Gianfranco Lotito (litigation and corporate reorganization specialist) with him as partner from Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (where Lotito was senior associate): the latter firm also endured the 2019 departure of former disputes practice head Enrique Alcalde for Marinovic & Alcalde Abogados. In response, in May 2020, the firm recruited Jorge Vial, founding partner of Vial Larraín Abogados (as partner) to lead the litigation and arbitration practice, bringing five associates with him. In the most recent international development, Andersen Global announced is arrival in the Chilean market via a September 2020 tie-up with 12-strong boutique law firm Chirgwin Peñafiel and local tax and accountancy consultancy Spasa Consulting.

The market continues to experience spin-offs with relative frequency. Schenke Brancoli Abogados was founded in 2019 by Jorge Schenke and Ricardo Brancoli, former partners of Jara Del Favero & Ried Fabres, itself the result of a 2018 merger that was unwound in 2020, the firms reverting to their former identities as:  Jara Del Favero Abogados and Ried Fabres, respectively. Elsewhere, Chaves Awad Contreras & Schürmann was renamed as BACS Abogados in February 2020, following the exit of former name partner Miguel Chaves to pursue a personal project; and Aninat Schwencke & Cia became Aninat Abogados, following the April 2020 departure of former name partner Juan Pablo Schwencke to found Schwencke & Cía, which subsequently became PAGBAM Schwencke Chile following its November 2020 association with Argentine market-mainstay, Pérez Alati, Grondona, Benites & Arntsen.

Others have sought to set out on their own, with boutique startups increasingly being established by Chile’s next generation of lawyers. Examples include Prieto Tax & Legal, established by former Guerrero Olivos‘ senior associate and tax group leader, José Miguel Prieto; and Lawgic Abogados (environment, water, energy and mining law, along with project development), founded by former Carey senior associates Agustín Walker, Sebastian Del Campo and Felipe Meneses , which both opened their doors in January 2020; as well as the transport and tourism focused Prat & Cía. Abogados, launched by former Del Río Izquierdo Abogados‘ senior associate, Francisco Prat, in March.

The Chilean legal market has also experienced a number of interesting developments in terms of its evolution and anticipated future trends. Former Barros & Errázuriz senior associate Sebastián Donoso founded Sebastián Donoso & Asociados in 2015, which specializes in matters concerning indigenous affairs and communities, advisory areas that corporate clients are increasingly expected to seek out; and in 2019, María de los Ángeles Santos and Macarena López (formerly associates at Della Maggiora, Eyzaguirre, Ferrada Abogados and  Baker McKenzie Chile, respectively) founded a (solely) woman-led law firm, labor boutique SL Abogadas; obviously women have co-founded firms before – Nicohle Nehme (FerradaNehme) and Patricia Núñez (Nuñez, Muñoz Abogados), immediately come to mind, perhaps Jimena Bronfman… but this remains new ground in a legal market that has proved more reticent than most to recognising and rewarding female talent – particularly with partnership. Meanwhile, Quintanilla & Busel Niedmann has declared itself to be the first Chilean law firm explicitly to state a non-discrimination policy regarding sex, gender and sexual identity, political opinion, nationality and ethnicity, among others.