Legal market overview in Chile

The economy of the world’s largest copper producer, Chile, temporarily recovered from certain pandemic-related economic troubles, as a result of robust government support. Unfortunately, State-led assistance consequently triggered the economy’s overheating, alongside high-levels of inflation (further to buoyant private consumption levels and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). Decreasing copper prices and political unrest have also increased the prospect of Chile entering into recession during 2023.

Meanwhile, Chile continues to wrestle with its Pinochet-era constitution, following the September 2022 rejection (by 62% of voters) of a proposed new constitution. In January 2023, Chile’s Congress passed a bill that launched a new process, in order to replace the legacy constitution; and the bill was subsequently delivered to President Gabriel Boric to be signed into law. However, in a May vote to establish a committee to rewrite the constitution ahead of the December referendum, the Republican party of ultra-conservative José Antonio Kast secured 22 seats within the 50-member constitutional council, marking a major blow for Boric.

Key recent legislative developments include (further to 11 years of debate) the Chilean Senate’s January 2022 approval of the modernisation of the country’s 1951 Water Code, which controls distribution of the country’s water resources.

The new legislation will particularly impact Chilean agriculture, as the country’s principal water consumer, with the updated Water Code altering the notion of water rights by guaranteeing water for human sanitation and daily subsistence, in addition to drinking purposes. The new law establishes that stakes in water will be granted under 30-year renewable concessions, with The General Directorate of Water in charge of enforcing the Water Code. Reflective of this significant legal development, The Legal 500 2024 has introduced an inaugural water law chapter to steer readers towards Chile’s leading water rights specialists.

Future legislation in need of top-level legal advice includes the announcement by the Commission for the Financial Market of a consultation on draft regulations for the provision of investment advisory services under Chile’s Fintech Law. This includes a procedural regulation for registration at the Registry of Financial Services Providers (RPSF), and a general regulation for the provision of investment advisory services by RPSF-registered individuals. The public consultation process concluded in January 2023, with both regulations effective from February.

During 2022, Chile’s law firms also provided legal assistance on the challenges presented by amendments to Law 20.393, which added four new crimes to its roster; such additions necessitated the review of clients’ preventive procedures and the creation of new controls to mitigate exposure to risk. Included within the recently-incorporated legislation is a series of cybercrimes, for which most of Chile’s companies have had to develop internal risk-prevention controls.

Notable legal market developments include Abuid Jeria y Ureta rebranding as NexLegal in February 2023; while further to changing tax rules in Chile, Honorato Delaveau (from which former partner Felipe Divin exited in September 2022 to found DW Abogados, a firm that advises on start-ups, capital markets and compliance) has reorganised itself as HD Group, within which now sit HD Legal, HD Compliance and HD Systems.

Other headline renaming's include specialised disputes boutique Coz Jofré & Blavi becoming Coz & Blavi, following the 2023 departure of former name partner Álvaro Jofré to found Jofre & Cia; and known as Urzúa Matute until early 2022, further to the exit of former name partner Claudio Matute for IMAD Abogados, boutique firm Urzúa Abogados is now called Urzúa (as of July 2023), following a further rebrand. Elsewhere, specialised labour and employment law firm Uribe Legal spun out of Uribe, Hubner & Cia (now rebranded as UH&C Abogados) in December 2022; specialist IP practice Zamora IP was established in late 2022 by former Albagli Zaliasnik (AZ) senior associate, Juan Pablo Zamora; and natural resources, public law, and environmental law boutique firm TM Abogados was launched in June 2022 by Pablo Tejada, (a former Allende Bascuñán & Cía director), and Pablo Méndez (previously a director at Moreno Sáez & Avilés).

Significant legal market news also includes the departure of Morales & Besa’s former senior associate Rocio Vergara in September 2022 to co-found Vergara y Sáez Abogados, which specialises in tax, corporate and insolvency advice and litigation; and Clyde & Co (established following the August 2022 merger between Grasty Quintana Majlis, which was previously already in association with London-headquartered Clyde & Co and Halpern Pino), hiring insurance, reinsurance and claims settlement expert, Felipe Hoetz, to lead its Chile insurance practice from Acuña, Hoetz & Cifuentes (now known as Acuña & Compañía Abogados).

Arguably the most high-profile departure in Chile’s legal market this year, early 2023 saw banking, finance and capital markets partner Marcelo Armas leave Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría (PPU) to pursue other ventures after 33 years at the firm; unexpectedly, as we “go to press“, Armas has been announced as the new Chairman of the Affinitas alliance – which comprises Barros & Errázuriz, in Chile, along with Miranda & Amado (Peru), Gómez-Pinzón Abogados (GPA) in Colombia and Mijares, Angoitia, Cortés y Fuentes S.C. (Mexico) – effective as of October 2023. Other notable movements include the exit of AZ’s former white-collar department director, Jaime Winter , to co-launch his own criminal law firm, Winter Etcheberry, in March 2023. Similarly fresh to the market, November 2022 saw disputes boutique Antolín Ruiz Litigios open its doors, bringing together former AZ civil litigation and arbitration director, Félix Antolín, and Manuela Ruiz Q, previously at now-dissolved Bofill Mir & Álvarez Jana; while fellow start-up and specialist labour law practice TSP Legal was co-launched in April 2022 by Marianela SmithPedro Torres and Edmundo Piffre de Voban. Smith is a former senior associate at Uribe, Hubner & Cia, where Torres was a group lead lawyer, and Piffre de Voban previously worked as adviser to both the Undersecretary of Labour and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. More recently still, former Jana & Gil Dispute Resolution partner Carla Dittus departed in September 2023 to open the disputes practice at what is now EPIC Litigios & PI.

Other recently-established firms with strong prospects include boutique firm Estudio Lizana, which specialises in the resolution of commercial conflicts, regulatory matters and free competition, and was founded in December 2022 by former Carey partner Claudio Lizana; and VIAL LARRAÍN ABOGADOS, a new disputes focused firm founded in September 2023 by former PPU partners Ignacio Larraín  (competition law), Jorge Vial (arbitration & litigation) and Jorge Femenías (contentious administrative matters). Since publication, the market has seen Lathrop, Mujica & Herrera Abogados open its doors (as of January 2024; founded by Fernando Lathrop (fomerly at Eluchans Abogados), Pedro Mujica  (ex Cubillos Soza Abogados) and Sebastián Herrera (previously at KH Legal), the firm offers services across some 18 practice areas but is primarily focused on corporate matters, real estate, and energy and environmental work.

Certain firms on the Chilean market are becoming increasingly internationalised. As part of its international growth strategy, ECIJA Otero (established in 2019 when domestic practice Estudio Jurídico Otero teamed up with Madrid-headquartered firm ECIJA) entered into a strategic alliance with Anglo-German firm Taylor Wessing LLP in March 2023.

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