Cali in Colombia
Colombia’s third largest city by population (approx. 2.25m), Cali’s relatively shallow legal market belies a significant commercial history that saw both the US and Great Britain open consul offices in the city, and where the Raisbeck firm – the forerunner of the Colombian office of today’s Baker McKenzie – came to market prominence. An industrial city, it nevertheless has a marked orientation towards the Valle De Cauca’s agricultural production -which can count on export via the country’s key Pacific-coast port, Buenaventura- and the service sector. Hit hard by the departure of -in particular- auto manufacturers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and subsequently by the commodity crisis of 2014, the region has nevertheless bounced back, coming somewhat into fashion with foreign investors, at least until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The legal market offering remains more atomised than that of Medellín and the market boasts fewer firms that have consolidated their institutional presence, although this is now increasingly taking place. Instead, the market has resorted to inter-firm (and sole-practitioner) associations –temporary or more long-lasting– to facilitate the coverage of clients’ requirements. Caicedos Holguines, for example, has a cooperation agreement with Seguridad Legal for data protection and tech matters, but at the same time maintains a concurrent association with Advocat. Of the Bogotá heavyweights, only Brigard Urrutia maintains a permanent presence, although Goméz Pinzón Abogados’ associate (and Valle del Cauca native) Jorge Iván López -formerly at Seguridad Legal- is well known in the Cali market, particularly for matters related to data privacy.
Colombia’s complex topography has -necessarily- been a significant factor in the country’s development, isolating certain regions and cities and thereby ensuring the development of their own specific cultural traits, styles of business and modes of interaction. Long before low cost-airlines and 3G and 4G highway modernizations greatly facilitated domestic travel, this was particularly the case in cities such as Medellín and Cali (the country’s second and third largest cities by population, and the regional capitals of Antioquia and Valle de Cauca, respectively). Such local cultural norms have in turn influenced local legal provision – and indeed, the ability of the generally larger Bogotá-based firms to effectively penetrate these markets in their drive to offer genuinely national coverage. Characterised by fixed fees and cuota litis rather than the billable hour, these markets should -nevertheless- not be considered insignificant. Cali, for example, has enjoyed the presence of Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Smurfitt Kappa and Baxter, among other multinationals; while Medellín boasts local titans Grupo Argos, Grupo Nutresa, Bancolombia, Celsia, EPM and Grupo Sura – and all their associated supply and service lines.
In this first year covering these markets, what follows is a non-ranked listing of the key legal market participants and their respective market offerings; we fully expect to deepen this analysis into a ranking-by-sector over the course of the next editions.
Although now head-quartered in Bogotá, relative-newcomer Advocat was originally founded in Cali, and continues to bear its imprimatur, not least in its attention to clients from the Valle del Cauca. Founded in 2015 by a group of lawyers who had all had the experience of working at one of Bogotá's full-service players, the firm has positioned itself strongly in the region by offering a one-stop-shop service uncommon in the local market, proving itself highly competitive in the upper mid-market sector. Its broad practice offering includes corporate and M&A, banking and capital markets, labour, IP, tax advisory, energy and natural resources, infrastructure and projects, and real estate, along with work for not-for-profit and social-purpose entities. Key office-partner Nicolás Fernández de Soto is a finance, banking and capital markets specialist whose practice reaches into investment matters, infrastructure and projects, as well as corporate law and M&A. Fellow founding partner María Claudia Armenta, who focuses primarily on corporate law, M&A, project finance and real estate, divides her time between the firm's Bogotá and Cali offices.
Founded in 1941, Ayerbe Abogados is the oldest firm in the region. Nine-strong -sizeable for the local market- the firm culture prioritizes 'law as a vocation' and exemplifies the role of personalised partner-contact that typifies the Cali market. While remaining small by national standards, it has nevertheless developed, opening a Bogotá office in 1997 and adding corporate finance and an investment banking capability to its broad service-offering as far back as 2005. Notably it remains one of the few Cali offices with an IP offering. Other services include foreign tax, competition, energy, environment and agricultural law, but it is corporate, labour and commercial/civil matters -including litigation across all areas- that constitute the core of the firm's offering. All the firm's lawyers handle matters across these sectors, with clients receiving a nominated partner-contact rather than being attended by differing departments. Senior partners Rodrigo Ayerbe Muñoz and Felipe Ayerbe Muñoz represent the firm's second generation and head the firm's Cali and Bogotá offices, respectively; both focus primarily on corporate matters and significant litigation. Corporate mandates in 2019 involved a slew of local subsidiary incorporations on behalf of foreign companies, including Avantica Software Development, Comercializadora Tancitaro, Danper, Zero Point Extraction and Squareball Studios. With over 25 years at the firm, labour specialist Andrés Rodrigo Flórez focuses primarily on individual empoyment cases and collective bargaining; client favourite Rodrigo Ayerbe Arango's practice also centres on labour matters. The firm has excellent relations with major corporates present in the south west region; a case in pont being the current secondment of Valentina Naranjo and María Juliana Gallego as local in-house counsel for Colgate-Palmolive on a rolling basis. Civil specialist Claudia Romero Estrada, who has over 20 years in practice, is also noted.
‘The firm has extensive knowledge of all the administrative entities and the thinking of the different judicial branches which is invaluable; they also help us in transactional matters and have solid knowledge of other markets such as Peru and Ecuador.‘
‘It strikes me as a firm that is well positioned for the new reality that we are living in – highly responsive and adaptable.‘
‘The advantage of a boutique firm of this type is that everything is seen directly by a partner – in our case Rodrigo Ayerbe Arango. A relatively young lawyer still, I would highlight his ethical manner, attention to the client and outstanding focus on the matter in hand – he is absolutely solution oriented.‘
‘Felipe is a simply outstanding professional; he knows how to articulate the letter of the law with the realities of the world of business, he has remarkable business vision and his way of thinking is very anticipatory and in the vanguard, thereby allowing the client to go beyond their immediate requirements and look to the future.‘
‘Ayerbe Abogados could be defined as the boutique firm ‘por excelencia’ – not only due to its specializations and its work with significant multinationals (particularly corporate and labour matters), but also the degree of commitment and involvement from the partners who are present not only for the macro, strategic decisions but also in the execution.‘
‘I would highlight the firm’s ethical practice in every aspect of their activity and work; it is what they expect of their own lawyers and it is an integral aspect of the service quality they deliver.‘
‘Rodrigo (Ayerbe Muñoz) is a very, very legalistic lawyer – an impeccable professional of great technical capacity… as is his son; both of them have the same attention to detail and commitment.‘
‘Ayerbe Abogados’ team is characterised by being ‘the best in class’ in the Valle del Caucá. It is a boutique firm that is very easy to work with and knows the need of this market first hand and to perfection.‘
‘Dr Rodrigo Ayerbe is without doubt one of the best external lawyers with which the company deals; his rapid response times, his excellent analysis and juridical reasoning allows us to organise ourselves in accord with market necessities and the needs of our customers.‘
‘Dr Rodrigo Ayerbe is always up to date as regards market tendencies, the practices and activities of the multinationals that operate out of the Valle del Caucá and is an excellent business partner for our operation.‘
American Pipe Construction
Bristol Myers Squibb
The Gillette Company
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corporation
Johnson & Johnson International
Kintetsu World Express
Kraft General Foods
Reckitt & Benckiser
Sonoco Products Company
The Cooper Group
The Quaker Oats Company
K. Morgan Terrasan
W.R. Grace and Co.
Asociación Bancaria Colombiana
Banco de Colombia
Banco Unión Colombiano
Electra General Metálica
Giros y Divisas
Siderúrgica de Boyacá
Siderúrgica del Pacífico
Termovalle S en C.E.S.P.
- Advised listed-conglomerate Massy Group (Trinidad & Tobago) on its acquisition of Mazco.
- Undertook some 250 labour litigations throughout the southwest region upon behalf of various clients.
- Handled 10 labour-related Supreme Court cases (from the firm’s Bogotá office).
- Established the local operations of Costa Rican multinational call-centre operator Avantica in free trade zones across the southwest region.
- Established the local branch of Mexican agrobusiness Natural Grown Avocado Farms as part of the latter’s diversification program
The on-the-ground presence of corporate national champion Brigard Urrutia in Cali is limited to one partner and one associate (although its facilities can accommodate larger teams from Bogotá as required); nevertheless, the firm's footprint in both the city and the wider southwest region is simply undeniable. The office is directed by Alejandro García de Brigard (also the firm's competition and antitrust head of practice), whose broad corporate engagement involves strategic corporate advice and representation, particularly regarding transactions, day-to-day operations and regulatory matters; he is assisted by transactional associate Laura Valentina Vargas. The firm is standing local counsel to a slew of major corporates across Valle de Cauca and beyond, particularly for sizeable, complex and/or technically sophisticated matters. Recent mandates range from advising Cargill Trading Colombia on labelling regulations and Siderurgica del Occidente on tax efficiency alternatives, to assisting SPIAD, the concessionaire of the Puerto Aguadulce port terminal in Buenaventura (on the country's Pacific seaboard), with corporate, regulatory, antitrust, tax and contentious matters.
‘This B&U team understands the needs of the company, taking into account the economic sector, the city where it operates and the sociocultural needs in which the company’s operation is framed.‘
‘Constant customer support, excellent legal level in specialized issues such as corporate and customs issues and litigation.‘
‘They differ from the competitors because they have a large database of updated legislation and jurisprudence, as well as that plus of making the client feel like a priority. Likewise, they listen to the client to understand their needs.‘
‘Alejandro García de Brigard and Tomás Holguín have undoubtedly done more than excellent work on contractual and corporate issues, and José Francisco Mafla, Camilo Castrillón and Gerardo Chadid in matters of foreign trade and customs.‘
Suzuki Motor de Colombia
Sinergia Global en Salud
Gases de Occidente
Almacenes La 14
CI de Azucares y Mieles
Zonamerica Usuario Operador de Zonafranca
Baño Móvil de Colombia
Ingeniería Maquinaria y Equipos de Colombia – IMECOL
Servicio de Comercio Estratégico (Unico Outlets)
Santa Anita Nápoles
Cargill Trading Colombia
Siderurgica del Occidente
Sociedad Puerto Industrial Agua Dulce
Italcol de Occidente
Cámara de Comercio de Cali
- Local counsel to US non-profit healthcare provider Christus Health regarding corporate, tax, litigation, insolvency and labour law matters related to hospital and care network Sinergía; private health insurer Coomeva Medicina Prepagada; and health insurer Coomeva EPS, all Cali-located institutions in which it holds equity participations.
- Acts as local counsel to Gases de Occidente, the provider of natural gas service in the departments of Norte del Cauca and Valle del Cauca; recent matters include advising on the financing of the acquisition of gas-operated buses for one of the operators of Cali’s mass transportation system.
- Local counsel to a nationwide retailer, Cali-based Almacenes La 14, primarily on antitrust, corporate, and labour law matters; recent issues include advice on corporate policies and shareholders’ agreements.
- Counsel to major Colombian sugar cane producer CIAMSA on corporate, tax, customs, and international trade law matters, including representation of the company in its capacity as shareholder of the largest port terminal in Buenaventura (Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Buenaventura); and strategic advice regarding tax litigation, corporate governance, and export regulations.
- Ongoing advice to Zonamerica Usuario Operador de Zona Franca, operator of the first services-only free trade zone in Colombia, regarding primarily TMT, public procurement and customs matters.
Caicedos Holguines Abogados
Venerable market presence Caicedos Holguines Abogados has some 45 years in the market but has undergone significant modernization since managing partner Maria Fernanda Cardona took the helm. While it remains small, with four lawyers, it has developed alliances with both tech-boutique Seguridad Legal and, since 2018, Advocat – principally as regards tax matters - allowing it to broaden an offering focused primarily on contracting (both local and international), civil and administrative law and corporate governance. Commercial specialist Cardona has approaching 20 years' experience of commercial and company law, contract, corporate governance, civil law and dispute resolution; she also has particular expertise in protocol matters related to family-owned businesses, and is notably active in the growing niche concerning human rights in relation to the corporate sector. Recent mandates include assisting a client with a multimillion-dollar bio-diversity project. Senior associates Stefanny Bravo Gonzalez and Gustavo Ortiz Ordoñez lead on labour and social security, and compliance matters, respectively.
Nutrición de Plantas
Fundación Valle del Lili
Confesión Asamblea ESpiritual de los Bahais
Administradora Los Vallados
Cardona & Martens
Espíndola International Consultants
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, international trade and customs specialist Espindola International Consultants has transformed over the course of its existence, with founding partner Carlos Espindola-Scarpetta shifting the operational structure from a 40-strong firm to a looser, alliance-based model. The firm maintains rep offices in both Bogotá and Medellín, but nevertheless also has a four-year-old cooperation agreement with Arrubla Devis Asociados (Bogota and Medellín) for example, and a similar arrangement with leading administrative boutique Maria Claudia Rojas & Asociados, both in Cali. In part given the nature of its practice focus, the firm also coordinates work across not just the country but also the Latin American region as a whole, recently working with US international trade specialist Travis, Sandler & Rosemburg. Beyond IT&C the firm also handles maritime law, transportation and logistics, foreign investment and exchange, and administrative, civil, corporate, finance, insurance and tax law, along with compliance. Associate Lorena Hernández Agudelo, who focuses on corporate, compliance, IT&C and contracts, is also noted. The team was recently strengthened with the turn-of-the-year hires of associates Karol Marín (from real estate company Zamorano Olivares), and Claudia Bernate (from the judiciary).
‘I have been witness to Carlos Espindola-Scarpetta’s very sharp critical sense, his profound knowledge of law, his ease of exposition and his analytic capacity, not to mention his undoubted leadership and the sense of responsibility he shows in undertaking the work with which he is entrusted.‘
‘We have used the services of the office of Doctor Espíndola since the beginning of 2019, initially focused on a strategic property purchase-sale operation where we have installed our new distribution centre and main offices, through a mixed local and foreign investment operation, achieving negotiation and support that led us to successfully complete the closing of this operation, which was so important to us. In addition to legal advice in the aforementioned case, we have counted on the services of Doctor Espíndola’s office in different areas of the company, from analysis of particular private contracting cases and our day to day matters, up to robust cases of customs and tax order before the tax authority and Colombia’s National Customs authority, with very satisfactory results for us.‘
‘Dr Carlos Espíndola is a highly respected professional with a high tradition in the country and especially in the Valle del Cauca region, and whom I know personally in his work as a lawyer and academic and of whom I have only the best references for his work in these areas.‘
Pacific Fruits International
Chalet de la Cocha
Sinotrans Quiantang Colombia
- Representing Colombina (and its customs agent, Aduanas Avia) in seeking the overturning of a $20m fine imposed by the state tax authority, DIAN; having succesfully obtained the nullification of the $5m charge imposed upon Aduanas Avia, the team is awaiting a last instance decision from the Consejo del Estado regarding the case against Colombina.
- Advising Spanish-Chinese logistics and transport joint-venture Sinotrans Quiantang Colombia on all operating and permitting issues related to its operation as an international cargo agent and matters concerning free trade zones, as well as on corporate, foreign investment, customs and exchange issues.
- Advising agro-industrial machinery importer IMECOL on the redefinition of its corporate structure so as to facilitate the development of subsidiaries elsewhere in Latin America, as well as with IT&C, international commercial law and contracts, transactions and arbitral matters.
- Advised FMC Inversiones Yumbo on the negotiation of participations and purchase agreement with a Miami-based LLC.
Gil & Roa Abogados
Founded in 1989, today, the 20-strong Gil & Roa Abogados is one of few firms nationally with ISO 9001:2015 quality-certification in litigation and business law consulting. The firm's core practices centre on corporate and commercial matters on the one hand, and tax and administrative law on the other, with labour and bankruptcy being secondary -but nonetheless significant- subsidiary practices. With over 30 years' experience, name partner and corporate practice head Nelson Roa Reyes focuses on commercial law, insolvency and insurance. Key support comes from senior firm figure César Duque, who has extensive in-house experience, and senior associate Jeffrey Roa, who focuses on commercial law and bankruptcy. On the tax side, the team is led by accountant and tax management specialist Sergio Eduardo Luna, with the firm partnering with Ignacio Sanín Bernal y Cía Abogados on contentious fiscal cases. Director of Cali's College of Labour Lawyers Blanca Rojas handles both individual and collective labour law matters, with key support from associate Alfonso Marín.
‘The firm has attended us for more than ten years in legal services across the labour, civil and commercial areas; it has great expertise in handling judicial processes, bringing in specialists as the matter requires. It’s a firm that has won national recognition for its efficiency and as a firm that guarantees the quality of the work it undertakes (ISO 9001-2015). Dr Nelson Roa and his team are a recognised presence in the legal market and as an indivdiual he is also involved in the Academy and in the training of young lawyers.‘
Kia Motors Almotores
Cruz Roja Colombiana
- Counsel to Proyectos Igeniería and Desarrollamos Ingeniería on their (successful) participation in the $12m bid process for the development of the new headquarters of the Mayor of Cali.
- Defence of clients, including Kia Motors, Almotores and Cruz Roja Colombiana, in various COP$1m-plus labour lawsuits.
- Successful representation of Seguros Sura and Previsora Segura in various civil claims.
- Successful representation of Viavi Solutions and Latin American Polymers in breach-of-contract claims brought by Digiware Perú and Extruplas.
- Successful representation of Servientrega in various civil and commercial claims.
Hurtado & Gandini
Founded in 2000, Hurtado & Gandini has grown steadily and is now 19-lawyers strong. The firm undertakes both advisory work - principally regarding corporate, contractual, labour, real estate, technology and tax matters - and contentious work, with the litigation team handling primarily commercial, company law, labour and social security, insurance and administrative disputes. Managing partner Francisco José Hurtado is a litigator with a broad contentious practice and particular niche expertise in insurance-related disputes; while fellow name-partner Fernando Gandini is head of the firm's corporate and commercial department. Well-known labour specialist Julián Dávalos is director of the labour and social security team, handling both advisory and contentious matters; Ana María Olave's dual practice covers real estate and wealth planning, while Gloria Inés Hurtado is a ports and maritime specialist with related experience in the public sector. Senior associate Christián Camilo Vallecilla, who focuses on civil and insurance litigation, is also noted.
Ignacio Sanín Bernal y Cía Abogados
The Cali office of the Medellín-headquartered Ignacio Sanín Bernal y Cía Abogados [see City Focus: Medellín] handles general business law (corporate and company law), tax and litigation, along with labour and exchange matters, although the latter two are not standalone practices. Office head and tax-practice co-director Carlos Alberto Lemos is a tax specialist with a strong commercial aspect to his practice; formerly a legal manager at KPMG, where he spent five years, he joined the firm in December 2019, replacing María del Mar Arciniegas, who moved to Insignares Perdomo and Arciniegas as partner.
Ingenio La Cabaña
Torrecafé Aguila Roja
Groupe Seb (previously IMUSA)
1, 2 Tree
Kärner, Botero, Segura & Valdivieso Abogados
Founded in 2017, Kärner, Botero, Segura & Valdivieso Abogados is a dynamic young presence in the Cali market. The firm is principally focused on corporate and M&A, labour and real estate matters, with a notable differentiator of an international trade and customs offering. Senior partner Julián Andrés Segura -winner of the 2019 ‘Excellence in Justice’ award for the best academic research in law awarded by the Corporación Excelencia en la Justicia- leads the firm’s international trade and corporate and M&A department (which also handles company law matters). Key support in the latter area comes from managing partner Eduardo José Botero (who also has finance expertise), and Juan Antonio Martínez Kärner, who also co-leads on labour matters with commercial/finance specialist Pedro Jose Valdivieso. The line-up is completed by Felipe Valencia Serrano (Orden al Mérito, 2019, Universidad Javeriana, Cali), who is the firm's real estate and urban planning specialist, and also handles consumer matters.
Excavaciones y Afirmados G & G
Juan Antonio Taborda Peluquería
Fundación Plan de Apoyo Familiar
Reusapp de Colombia
Alquilequipos C.M.M S.
Carlos Murillo Diseño
Karnar Creative Design
- Advised Impordiesel on the company’s reincorporation as a Sociedad por Acciones Simplificadas (SAS), having formerly been a Sociedad Anonima (SA).
- Provides pro bono services to Fundación Plan de Apoyo Familiar and more than 300 of its beneficiaries.
Although its sole office is now in Bogotá, Saavedra Becerra Abogados nevertheless has a long-established profile in Cali, an orientation reflected in its caseload and clientele. A five-strong boutique regarded as the southwest region’s ‘go-to’ firm for public law issues, especially in relation to projects and state contracting, it is best known for concessions, private-public-partnership (PPP) matters and tort law. A former president of Colombia’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, Ramiro Becerra is a senior market figure with regard to administrative law, public procurement, torts and state liabilities; he is also a listed arbitrator of the Chambers of Commerce of both Cali and Bogotá. Managing partner and key contact Carlos Saavedra can draw on past experience at both the Institute for Urban Development (IDU) and the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI), as well as extensive private practice experience; his practice too stretches across the full range of infrastructure and PPP matters, as well as covering corporate and commercial law. Key support comes from senior associate Ana Marcela Albarracín, a specialist in liability, damages and compensation, state contracting and administrative law.
Consorcio Ciclo Rutas
Royal Betting Solutions
- Ongoing advice to Metro Cali in renegotiations with the operators of the city’s Bus Rapid Transport system; as well as representation in contractual arbitration against UTRYT (value $78m).
- Advising Centromin on the juridical structuring of private initiative Chirguná-Dibulla iron-ore project, currently in its feasibility phase.
- Ongoing advice to Consorcio Ciclo Rutas with regard to administrative matters and public contracting.
- Permanent advice to port services and shipping logistics company Compas, with regard to specialised issues such as port concession contracts requests, extensions and deferrals.
- Representing educational company Cognos Online in litigation against Colombia’s national educational service (SENA) regarding the undue adjudication of a state contract.
Housing a specialist team including a systems-engineer and an economist with finance-sector and blockchain experience, four-strong micro-boutique Seguridad Legal was founded in 2014 and handles a diverse array of tech, digital business and media matters; it is particularly reputed for its data protection and privacy capabilities. Legal director Andrés Felipe Ángel holds a Masters’ degree in telecommunications and information technology, and can draw on experience both at the Spanish telecommunications ministry and as a consultant on Spanish data privacy regulations (LOPD) and online commerce (LSSI). The firm has undertaken data protection and information technology projects for companies including Goodyear (Colombia and Peru), Banco W, Emcali, Grupo Price Travel (Colombia and Mexico), Sociedad Portuaria de Buenaventura, and Copidrogas, among others. The firm also has a cooperation agreement with local corporate firm Caicedos Holguines Abogados so as to undertake the privacy, data compliance and tech aspects of larger corporate projects.
‘The team of people with whom the company Seguridad Legal works are highly specialized in their profession, with a high level of knowledge and professionalism in their work. I highlight the professionalism of Dr Andrés Felipe Ángel, his specialization and dedication to the work of each company in which he provides services.‘
‘A team with proven experience in the legal, information security and privacy practice and cybersecurity, which has been put at the service of different companies in the region and the country. In addition to his knowledge of privacy, information security and cybersecurity, Andrés Ángel has become a business ally that contributes to the growth of the organization. He puts himself in the shoes of the clients in search of suitable solutions to their needs.‘
‘Specialized knowledge; prompt and personal attention.‘
‘We note that in the consulting services we receive, they undertake adequate project administration, allowing the team time to execute the activities according to the planned timings, and resolve inconveniences in a suitable manner. Regarding the technical legal and information security domain, the team demonstrated great experience and clear concepts for the implementation of the Comprehensive Program for the Protection of Personal Data.‘
‘Their commitment, fulfillment of their commitments, and the very good disposition and aptitude to help us resolve the concerns and difficulties that they present to us day by day. The main partner is Andrés Ángel.‘
COMFANDI (Caja de Compensación Familiar del Valle)
Gases de Occidente
Centro Médico Imbanaco
Progrma de Servision de Tránsito de Cali
Grupo Empresarial Cooerativo COOMEVA
Grupo Riopaila Castilla