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July 2018: Mexico’s presidential elections are over; ‘AMLO’ – Andrés Manuel López Obrador, at the head of his Morena party, has finally won the Presidential sash at the third time of asking – and as yet the sky has not fallen in as many feared. If domestic politics have been one source of uncertainty over the last 18 months, the other has primarily been relations with the Trump administration to the north. For many, Porfirio Díaz' dictum – "México, so far from god, so close to the United States" – has never rung so true. The ongoing re-negotiation of NAFTA, due to have been completed prior to Mexico’s elections, remains in process and may yet become entangled in any political fallout arising from mid-term elections in the US, due at the end of the year. In the interim, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to be ramped up, souring bi-national relations; it remains to be seen if President elect López Obrador – whose protectionist and nationalist leanings are not dissimilar to his northern counterpart – can find common ground on which to improve cooperation between the two countries.

What has been noticeable, however, despite the severe – but relatively short-lived – decline in the peso in late 2016, is the resilience of business activity in (and into) Mexico. 2017 proved to be, if not a bumper year, certainly one that outstripped expectation given the political scenario; moreover, this buoyancy has continued into 2018. The legal market has, as a result, been relatively upbeat, and while the wave of incoming international firms has largely died down, there remains considerable inter-firm movement as players seek to strengthen particular practices, poach talent and generally position themselves for the forthcoming sexenio.

Greenberg Traurig, S.C. has been one of the beneficiaries of such movement, absorbing Haynes and Boone, L.L.P.’s former real estate team; indeed, the Texan firm was a net loser in recent market churn, losing other partners to a Thompson & Knight LLP office that is gradually regaining market position. Leading international firm White & Case S.C. is another that has suffered departures, while DLA Piper Gallastegui y Lozano strengthened its offering markedly with the absorption of the highly-regarded tax boutique González Luna, Moreno y Armida. Other movements have seen Woodhouse Llorente Ludlow cement its relation with international firm CMS in line with the latter's further expansion into Latin America (which saw it develop associations in Chile, Colombia and Peru in one swoop).

At the forefront of the market, major players Creel, García-Cuéllar, Aiza y Enríquez, S.C., Galicia Abogados SC and Ritch, Mueller, Heather y Nicolau, S.C. have continued to hone their specialist departments, particularly their tax capabilities, a sector which has undergone a sea-change in terms of service provision as corporate firms have moved to ensure they have at least a transactional tax capability in-house. A step behind them, Greenberg Traurig, S.C. is increasingly making good under the leadership of José Raz Guzmán and will benefit from its new real estate strength going forward; and González Calvillo, SC is increasingly gaining the market profile its size and participation merits. Nevertheless, such developments should not overshadow the standing strength of other key players, most notably Mijares, Angoitia, Cortés y Fuentes S.C., Nader, Hayaux y Goebel, SC and Jones Day

Other market currents include a distinct proliferation of smaller firms in the oil and gas, tax, and to a lesser degree, IP areas, in particular. This, in conjunction with the number of foreign firms now present in the market – heavyweights Cuatrecasas and Mayer Brown Mexico, S.C. being among the most recent arrivals – and the continued growth of the market’s largest players; would suggest that overall, the Mexican legal market is maturing in a hitherto unforeseen manner and deepening as becomes the size of the economy it services. Certainly there has been a significant leap forward in terms of increasing professionalization and specialization compared with just a decade ago, processes further accelerated by additional requirements such as recent anti-corruption legislation, and corporate compliance and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements. The uncharted territory of a López Obrador administration, which will take office in early 2019, awaits.

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