Legal market overview in Chile

Long-famed for being the world’s leading copper exporter, Chile remains one of Latin America’s better-performing economies; following a downbeat 2017, Chile's economy experienced a growth spurt of 4 per cent during 2018 in response to a number of factors, including increased domestic consumption levels and higher copper prices, while non-mining sectors such as manufacturing and wholesale trade have also thrived.

Chile's 2019 economic growth is reportedly expected to hover around the more modest rate of 3.4 per cent, partly as a result of  the mining sector experiencing unfavourable climate conditions and temporary mine closures.

Significant legislation providing Chile's top legal practices with advisory work includes the country's 2019 update of its banking regulations, which among other requirements, involve new banking capital and reserve obligations; it also updates areas such as corporate governance and the banking regulator's powers. Furthermore, institutions previously supervised by the Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions (SBIF), are now subject to the supervision of the Comisión para el Mercado Financiero (CMF), which will assess the viability of banking checks that prevent manipulation of the financial system to commit crimes.

The Chilean Government's October 2018 announcement that it would overhaul the country's criminal law codes and anti-corruption practices, will also provide the country's law firms with a range of compliance instructions; coupled with the Government's announcement, a Criminal Procedure Code Reform Commission was established and Albagli Zaliasnik's founding partner, Gabriel Zaliasnik, was appointed its President. Indeed, as of last 20th November, some of the reforms of the Codigo Penal (stemming from the Comisión Engel) have already come into effect with Ley 21.121, which establishmes new offences related to corruption and economic crime such as 'undue negotiation between private parties' (negociación incompatible entre privados) and 'unfair administration of goods' (administración desleal de patrimonio). These new legal figures have already resulted in at least one significant (pending) case, el caso Prolesur.

Chile is also preparing to welcome in legislation that will specifically cover data privacy and data protection, including the creation of a Data Protection Agency to oversee regulations, fines and enforcement matters. Proposed amendments to a 2017 bill are expected to become law during 2019, and this is likely to lead to a range of data privacy compliance work for the country's law firms.

Headline arrivals in the local legal market saw global law firm Dentons launch a Chile practice by combining with Larrain Rencoret Urzua (which has significant legal expertise in mining, natural resources, energy and projects) as part of its growth strategy in Latin America; the office has already demonstrated its intention to expand, hiring the well-reputed Santiago Ried, formerly of Ugarte, Ried & Correa, to head up its new competition practice in August 2019. Meanwhile, BAZ|DLA Piper and NLD (Noguera Larraín & Dulanto), which merged under the name DLA Piper BAZ|NLD in 2018, is now known as DLA Piper (Chile), aligning itself with the firm's increasingly-strong regional offering.

Market moves at the local level have also seen mergers: Palma Abogados joined up with EDN Abogados and Vezpremy Abogados, to become Palma Edwards Veszpremy, for example; early May saw the formalisation of a strategic association between Fontaine & Cía and tax boutique Brzovic & Cía; and also a tie-up betweem Frias y Maira with José Tomás Lagos and Rodrigo Vial so create new firm FLMV Abogados, which focuses on corporate law, labour, real estate and litigation / dispute resolution. More frequent, however, was the formation of new firms as a result of spin-offs and departures:  independent tax law firm Torretti & Cía. was launched by Eduardo Torretti, a former Correa Squella partner; Eugenio Merino -formerly a partner at Ortiz Quiroga- established boutique firm, Merino & Cía, with a focus on white collar & economic crime (derecho penal economico); Jaime Ríos left Prieto Abogados to co-found Ríos & Llaneza; Rodrigo Quintana left Bofill, Mir & Álvarez Jana to establish contentious boutique QRF Abogados; and Álvaro Jana has become one of the founding partners at Jana Charlin Cuevas Wegener Abogados which opened its doors in January 2019 - in addition to corporate work and dispute resolution matters, it has a broad offering across the real estate and construction, environmental and mining sectors. Most recently, former disputes-practice head José Ignacio Jiménez left Guerrero Olivos to open his own boutique, Jimenez y Cia Abogados.

Other start-ups include, PRB Abogados (founded by ex-Jara Del Favero & Ried Fabres associates Dino Pruzzo Gonzalez and Javier Ruscica, along with Francisco Brotfeld, who was formerly in house at Transelec), which focuses on energy and natural resources, disputes and associated contentious matters; the primarily insurance-focused RRG Abogados, spun out of the former Ríos Tagle Alessandri & Romero (now RTA Abogados) by Roberto Ríos, Stehanie Ramdohr and Alonso García; the July-2019 founding of Atkinson Costabal Undurraga & Achurra Abogados (ACU) by former Aninat Schwencke & Cia partners Arturo Costabal (real estate, agro-industry, competition), Pablo Undurraga (corporate/M&A, venture capital & investment funds) and Nicolás Atkinson (project finance & regulated markets), with former associate Santiago Achurra becoming firm managing partner; and the establishment of boutique firm Salinas Toledo Labor & Employment Lawyers by Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría's former labour-practice director Jaime Salinas, and five associates, in August 2019.

Key individual recruitment saw Contreras Velozo undertake the 2018 hires of Javier Velozo and Pablo Pardo from Aninat Schwencke & Cia so as to launch its competition and regulation department; while insurance, corporate, arbitration and contracts expert José Antonio Gutiérrez and insurance litigation of counsel Ricardo Peralta Valenzuela join Kennedys from Peralta, Gutierrez y Asociados. Other notable moves include Fleischmann & León Abogados' recruitment of ​​litigation and arbitration specialist Juan Diego Rabat Celis from Molina Ríos Abogados; labour law expert Ramón Domínguez, formerly at DLA Piper (Chile), being hired by Rivadeneira Colombara Zegers; Garrigues' hire of former FNE deputy national prosecutor, Mario Ybar Abad, as counsel and head of the office's new competition practice; and the return of corporate and M&A specialist Gerardo Varela to Cariola Díez Pérez-Cotapos, following a stint at the Government's Ministry of Education.