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With Mexico’s presidential elections due at the beginning of June 2024, the tenure of Andrés Manuel López Obrador is drawing to a close; as things currently stand the country looks likely to elect its first female president with Xóchitl Gálvez, candidate for the Frente Amplio por México alliance (composed of members of the PAN, PRI and PRD) facing continuity candidate Claudia Sheinbaum (Juntos Hacemos Historia), with only a minimal likelihood that former foreign secretary (and sometime Mexico City mayor), Marcelo Ebrard can mount a relevant candidacy following his being passed over by AMLO. All current polling suggests that Sheinbaum – a former environment, energy and sustainable development specialist who served as mayor of Mexico City during AMLO’s presidency – as favourite to win in 2024. With that said, she does not enjoy the current president’s levels of personal popularity, nor is likely to find the country’s coffers in as healthy a state as when her predecessor took office.

In the interim, the dog days of AMLO’s term grind on, with the president frequently at loggerheads with the country’s Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of many of his desired reforms. Indeed, his frequent attacks on independent entities such as the antitrust commission (COFECE), the freedom of information agency (INAI) and the national commission on human rights (CNDH), as well as budget cutting at many technically autonomous agencies have increasingly underlined his authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Recent legislative changes include a controversial electoral reform law that will effectively gut the country’s National Electoral Institute (INE), in February 2023; and the passage of a mining law reform bill (in May) that is expected to impact negatively on foreign investors and Mexican companies operating in the sector – and as such is likely to be subject to various legal challenges.

Despite AMLO’s populist policies, the country has -particularly over the last 18-24 months- proved to be the great beneficiary of current global uncertainties and the knock-on effects of cooling global détente, the increasing estrangement of the US and China, and the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war – all of which as served to birth the “near-shoring” phenomena: the re-location of businesses that had previously established themselves (primarily) in China (due to cheap overheads) in locations nearer the key US market – a process that began with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on supply lines. This process has – and continues – to drive much of the corporate M&A and real estate activity on which private-practice legal activity has been primarily concerned, even while it has been one of a number of factors leading to sustained historical highs on the part of the Mexican peso.

Concurrently, the demands of this process have increasingly run into the administrative realities in AMLOs Mexico, with power supplies increasingly under pressure due to the lack of generation capacity during the course of his administration, despite steeply climbing demand; chronic water shortages (a National Water Law reform bill remains unenacted), and the practical failure of various State-entities to issue relevant environmental, zoning and other permits facilitating the development of brown and green-field projects. Suffice to say that commentators point to the fact that whatever the political shade of the incoming President, their room for manoeuvre -fiscally and otherwise- will be very much reduced compared with that which AMLO has enjoyed.

Turning to the legal market, perhaps the best illustration of how the effects of López Obrador’s policies have impacted on the legal market -above and beyond the general downturn in the volume of work and the shift from transactional matters to countercyclical contentious matters (particularly administrative litigation)- is to be seen in the environmental sector. Here, the ability of firms to offer a partner-level environmental practice has always been dependent upon the volume of projects work – real estate, energy or infrastructure-related – that firm’s were obtaining. Project deal-flow in previous presidential sexenios was long sufficient to permit firms to maintain a partner-led presence in the sector, but the prolonged downturn during the AMLO administration provoked a crisis in the economic viability of such practices that very much came to the fore during the course of 2023. The result was a domino-effect series of changes, particularly at primarily transactional firm. This saw Héctor Garza leave Ritch, Mueller y Nicolau, S.C. for the smaller Anaya Díaz Ibáñez in December 2022; Ritch subsequently hire Brenda Rogel from Hogan Lovells the following month, forcing the latter to seek a replacement in turn, resulting in the hire of Mauricio Llamas from Jones Day (JD) in April 2023. JD in turn looked to Garrigues, hiring Roberto Torres (as counsel) from the Spain-headquartered firm in May. Many of the new hires have found themselves heading up broader ‘government regulation’ practices, rather than specifically environmental-focused practices. Other developments in the sector saw ECIJA hire former co-practice head Carlos Del Razo from specialist boutique Carvajal Machado Abogados (in February); and Sánchez Devanny hire former Cacheaux, Cavazos & Newton senior associate Georgina Gutiérrez Barbosa -as a partner- to head up its environmental (& ESG) practice (in August).

Looking beyond the environmental sector, the market has remained largely stable, the major exception being the arrival of a 17 lawyer group that left Sánchez Devanny for Holland & Knight (across both its Mexico City and Monterrey offices) in April 2023. While the departures were primarily the result of ongoing internal changes at their former firm, there is little doubt that -with notable strength in the corporate and foreign trade areas, particularly in relation to the industrial and manufacturing segments- the arrivals have considerably strengthened Holland & Knight’s position vis-a-vis the above mentioned near-shoring phenomena. Other recent developments saw CMS Woodhouse Lorente Ludlow absorb former tax boutique Escalante & Asociados in October 2023.

Turning to the broader market picture leading full-service powerhouses Creel, García-Cuéllar, Aiza y Enríquez, S.C. and Galicia Abogados S.C. continue to reap the rewards of their efforts towards great institutionalisation over the last decade. Although slower-growing and with a narrower service offering, Nader, Hayaux y Goebel, SC has also benefitted from its attention to the firm’s corporate model, coupled with agility and sensitivity to market conditions. Mijares, Angoitia, Cortés y Fuentes S.C. remains firmly entrenched at the top of the market, while Ritch, Mueller y Nicolau, S.C., despite having lost a little ground in the corporate and M&A segment, remains a “go-to” destination for banking, finance and capital markets’ matters. Greenberg Traurig, S.C. and Gonzalez Calvillo have both continued to build their presence and profile; while Von Wobeser y Sierra, SC, pursuing a more relationship-based (as opposed to transactional) model has also gained market share, with Hogan Lovells an additional player seeking to close the gap on the market’s frontrunners. The local operations of international firms White & Case S.C. and Baker McKenzie Abogados, S.C. also remain forces to be reckoned with (particularly in certain sectors), as is the strongly growing Holland & Knight. Longstanding, multi-office full service corporate players Basham, Ringe y Correa, S.C. and Santamarina y Steta also retain a healthy market share and profile.

Nor is there any shortage of talented and capable upper mid-market firms with a broad service offering: from Sánchez Devanny (which has been growing through a reorganisation process as part of its efforts to institutionalise); to Meritas Law Firms Worldwide alliance-member, Cuesta Campos y Asociados S.C.; to Pérez Correa González  – all are looking to improve their market position; while a phalanx of sector-specialist and boutique firms (of varying sizes) also compete for high-end work in any given discipline. Turanzas, Bravo & Ambrosi and Chevez Ruiz Zamarripa retain their leading positions in the tax sector (even as the latter makes a concerted play to broaden its service offering); Malpica, Iturbe, Buj y Paredes, S.C. and Martínez, Algaba, de Haro y Curiel undoubtedly remain at the forefront for litigation work and also have strong arbitral practices (although this latter segment is also strongly contested by the leading full service corporate players); Vázquez Tercero & Zepeda and SAI Derecho & Economía S.C are long standing names for international trade matters; as are Arochi & Lindner, SC, Olivares and Uhthoff, Gómez Vega & Uhthoff, SC in IP; and Sainz Abogados, Del Castillo y Castro Abogados or Guerra, Hidalgo y Mendoza (GHM) for bankruptcy and restructuring.

Other developments saw former Nader, Hayaux y Goebel, SC partner Hector Arangua establish Rimon Law in Mexico, the firm opening its doors there in January 2024.

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