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Legal Market Overview

Over recent years, Uruguay has stood as a bastion of stability in comparison to its more economically volatile neighbours. However, its ‘safe haven’ tag has been tested of late. A rocky end to 2019, which saw its economy grow by 0.2% year-on-year in the final quarter, dragged down economic growth to a projected 0.3% for the full year.

As a result, in the November 2019 elections, voters turned against the ruling left-wing Broad Front, which had been in power for 15 years. President Luís Lacalle Pou, of the conservative National Party, was elected on a platform of economic austerity and tough stances on crime and security issues. However, his ambitious economic proposals are likely to be revisited following the Coronovirus pandemic.

In line with its effects globally, the Coronavirus crisis has heavily impacted Uruguay’s already stagnant economy. Growth is expected to nosedive in 2020, bringing an end to the country’s 17-year growth streak. Uruguayan exports dropped by 18.7% year-on-year in February 2020, following drop in demand from China, which buys almost 80% of the country’s soy output and 60% of its beef. Overall, GDP is projected to slide to -3% during 2020, before picking up to around 5% in 2021.

Against the sluggish economic outlook, the market has been surprisingly dynamic. In a major development, global firm Dentons launched operations in the country following a tie-up with legacy Uruguayan firm, Jiménez de Aréchaga, Viana + Brause, which went live in April 2020. Dentons Jiménez de Aréchaga stands as one of only two global brands in the market, alongside Andersen Tax & Legal Uruguay.

Uruguay’s legal market is compact but sophisticated. Two firms consistently earn the lion’s share of complex and cross-border mandates: full-service heavyweights FERRERE and Guyer & Regules have the extensive resources, and the domestic and international relationships, to dominate in all the main areas of business law.

The firms in the chasing pack are considerably smaller and tend to utilise flatter structures than their larger competitors. However, the group comprises several reputable small to medium-sized firms with a multi-practice offering, namely Posadas, Posadas & Vecino, Hughes & Hughes, OLIVERA Abogados, BERGSTEIN and the formerly mentioned Dentons Jiménez de Aréchaga.

Clients also benefit from a select band of competent boutiques, particularly in the IP space where Fernández Secco & Asociados, Fischer Abogados and Fox & Lapenne are key names.

(Note: Unlike accountants, Uruguayan public notaries (escribanos) have the same educational requirements as lawyers. For the purposes of this chapter, such notaries are thereby included herein.)