Colombia’s post-pandemic recovery continued apace during 2022, with the country posting a 7.3% rise in GDP for the year. However, growth is expected to stall during 2023, with current estimates suggesting that the economy will only expand by around 1.7%, as a result both of wider global inflationary pressures as well as the country’s particular political situation.
The June 2022 election of former guerrilla Gustavo Petro as president continues to cast its shadow over investor confidence. Significantly the country’s first leftist president, Petro ran his election campaign on an anti-establishment (and quasi-populist) reform programme, which included increasing tax for high-earners and transitioning towards a green economy. Among the administration’s recent proposals, the market was particularly rattled by several planned employment reforms, which employers argued would see labour costs spike. In June 2023, a reform aimed at reducing working hours and boosting overtime pay was shelved by lawmakers, after Congress’ lower house failed to reach a quorum in a scheduled first debate.
Despite Colombia’s economic — and arguably political — stagnation, its legal market has remained remarkably dynamic. Most notably, a host of new brands entered the market during 2022/23 through a mix of mergers and spin-offs. In August 2022, CMM Abogados Colombia was formed through a combination between the former Cáez Muñoz Mejía (which specialised in corporate, transactions, dispute resolution and IP work) and real estate and urban law boutique Acosta & Gaviria Legal. In January 2023, Bermúdez & Esguerra Abogados was created through the merger of competition and regulatory stalwart Avante Abogados with data protection boutique Bermúdez Durana Abogados. That same month, new dispute resolution, public law, and projects boutique Rincón Castro Abogados opened its doors, following the spin-off of a group of lawyers from former top-tier arbitration firm, Zuleta Abogados Asociados — subsequent to the retirement of former name partner, Eduardo Zuleta. In February 2023, Solvere was formed through a tri-merger between Castro Estudio Jurídico (which was previously ranked for litigation), corporate and commercial boutique Calderon Mejía Abogados, and niche real estate firm Lauda Legalto. And as we publish, in October, the tie-up of two relatively young firms has been announced, with corporate and competition boutique Serrano Martínez CMA and emergent Medellín corporate player Correa Merino Agudelo Abogados merging to become Serrano Martínez CMA, thereby inserting a newly sizeable and weighty corporate player into the legal arena.
The market also saw several significant absorptions over the past year: September 2022 saw CMS Rodríguez-Azuero take in mining and environmental boutique, Vergel Riascos Abogados; while in May 2023, US-headquartered Holland & Knight strengthened its Colombia offering with the addition of 28-lawyer strong local firm Cuberos Cortés Gutiérrez Abogados, which boosted its Bogota-based partner group by seven.
While eschewing large-scale absorptions in favour of a more targeted hiring approach, Cuatrecasas continues to expand its service offering following its arrival in Colombia in January 2021. Among its recent hires was that of new corporate and M&A partner Felipe Mariño, who joined from Gómez-Pinzón Abogados (GPA) in December 2022 and is particularly noted for real estate transactions.
These recent developments do not significantly impact the top of the market, which remains the realm of a few stand-out Colombian powerhouses. Among the leading heavyweights, Brigard Urrutia remains an elite player, particularly in the banking, corporate, litigation and tax fields, among others. Other national full-service firms, many of whom also enjoy extensive international networks, include Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uría; Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas; DLA Piper Martinez Beltrán; Baker McKenzie S.A.S.; Gómez-Pinzón Abogados (GPA); and Posse Herrera Ruiz.
A rung below the premier names sits a strong band of internationally oriented firms, long-serving national brands and more entrepreneurial up-and-coming offices, including Cuatrecasas; Garrigues; Holland & Knight; CMS Rodríguez-Azuero; Muñoz Tamayo & Asociados; Lloreda Camacho & Co.; Parra Rodríguez Abogados; Palacios Lleras; and Goh.
The market is also mature enough to support a sizeable band of boutique firms. Namely (and by practice area): Mendoza Abogados and Muñoz Aya Legal are recommended for banking and finance. For competition and antitrust, Ibarra Abogados Rimon Law (which is also a leader in international trade) and Esguerra Asesores Jurídicos are highly sought after, while Bermúdez & Esguerra Abogados is noted for its focus on competition and TMT. On the white-collar and corporate compliance front, Jaime Granados Peña & Asociados Ltda, Jaime Lombana & Abogados and MPA/PDA Derecho Punitivo y Riesgos Corporativos are all premier firms. Transactional corporate specialists include Serrano Martínez CMA (which also specialises in competition). Key dispute resolution players in the arbitral sphere includes Suescún Abogados; Rincón Castro Abogados (which also handles international public law); and boutique operation Adell & Merizalde. On the energy front, Sanclemente Fernández Abogados S.A. and Angulo Martínez & Abogados are both highly regarded. The IP area is particularly well-represented with Cavelier, OlarteMoure, Castellanos & Co and Márquez-Robledo all leading names. Araújo Ibarra is a popular choice for international trade, while Alvarez, Lievano, Laserna S.A.S, Godoy Córdoba member of Littler Global and Lopez & Asociados Abogados rank among the top tier for labour and employment. On the projects side, Durán & Osorio Abogados Asociados and Arrieta Mantilla & Asociados are go-to firms — both also specialise in public law. While not strictly a boutique in terms of size and practice scope, Pinilla González & Prieto Abogados’s firm-wide strength in real estate is formidable. Finally, Lewin & Wills, Abogados and Quiñones Cruz are widely hailed for their tax expertise.
Regional firms also comprise a key pillar of the market. Insurance player Tamayo Jaramillo & Asociados and dispute resolution specialist Arrubla Devis Asociados have risen beyond their local roots to become nationally renowned in their practice areas. Other non-Bogotá headquartered firms to note include Ariza & Marin, Contexto Legal S.A., UH Abogados, and VM Legal. Additionally, despite now being based in Bogotá, the originally Cali-based Advocat could also be considered part of this group.