Legal Market Overview
Even though El Salvador went through a transfer of power in summer 2019, the domestic market remains steady and has no major changes to report. The new president, Nayib Bukele, who officially took office on 1 June 2019, may not have initiated any drastic legislative reforms, but he definitely has a number of attention-grabbing appearances to show for his first year of presidency. In February 2020, Bukele caused an international outcry when he entered the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador accompanied by Salvadoran army troops armed to the teeth in order to convince the assembly to rapidly approve a $109m loan request. Assembly deputies had asked for more time to study financing for this security plan, which is intended to cover the fight against rampant crime and homicide rates in the country, and Bukele staged a coup to give politicians an ultimatum. The Supreme Court had to step in to resolve this crisis, ordering Bukele to refrain from exercising such unconstitutional functions, and the president reluctantly complied. This chapter was not well received by the public, evoking memories of the long Civil War in many.
Nevertheless, the overall reception of Bukele’s first year as president of El Salvador has been positive. Bukele, who acted as the mayor of the capital San Salvador from 2015 to 2018, has started to establish a friendly relationship with US President Donald Trump. Stronger ties to the US are a key source of hope for Salvadorans and the future of the local economy. Law firms report more companies turning to investments, mergers and acquisitions in El Salvador, which is reflected by modest economic growth. This promising upturn, as well as a sharp decline in the country’s homicide rate, are the main reasons for the president’s 90% approval rating with the Salvadoran population.
The country’s strengthened business relations with international corporations and especially US clients are also starting to give rise to more labour and employment matters. Human resources and their management are an important factor for multinationals looking into establishing a local market presence. On top of that, practitioners expect a wave of labour litigation in the aftermath of Covid-19.
Some movement is reported in the intellectual property field: topics such as technology, data privacy and artificial intelligence are making their way into the Salvadoran legislation and many firms are stepping up their offering in these issues adjacent to their intellectual property practices. Authorities are also exploring the possibility of an electronic IP rights filing system, which would make IP protection and enforcement significantly easier and faster to secure.
This year’s coverage of the Salvadoran legal market includes the introduction of a tax ranking. Tax planning, advice and litigation have gained importance in recent years and are expected to continue to do so.
The Salvadoran legal landscape remains largely unchanged. However, two familiar names make their first appearance in our rankings this year: the San Salvador offices of Ibero-American giant ECIJA and Sfera Legal, an established Central American firm with its main hub in Costa Rica. The tight-knit market is mainly comprised of the usual regional suspects, namely Aguilar Castillo Love, Arias, BLP, Central Law El Salvador, Consortium Legal, García & Bodán, LatamLex | Guandique Segovia Quintanilla (GSQ), LatinAlliance El Salvador, Lexincorp and Mayora & Mayora, S.C.. EY Law Central America remains the only prominent Big Four representative. On a local level, Benjamín Valdez & Asociados Abogados/Notarios, De La Gasca & Cía., Espino Nieto & Asociados, MCM Legal, Romero Pineda and Sáenz & Asociados, as well as IP boutiques De La Gasca & Cía. and Portal & Asociados, are the firms to note. The talk of the town is most certainly banking and finance expert Zygmunt Brett, who left Arias with his team at the end of 2019, only to join rival regional firm BLP in February 2020.