Peru is considered one of the leading emerging markets in the region in terms of economic development and despite the economic slowdown the prospects are better than in neighboring countries. According to the IMF Peru will grow at a faster rate than Chile, Colombia and Mexico. New president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski should provide a basis for this through several infrastructure projects launching in the coming years.
Peru benefits from a vast territory rich in natural resources and has had several years of economic stability. Local firms have always met market demand, and until recently there had been no evidence of foreign firms showing interests in the country. With the exception of Colombia and Mexico where we find several international firms, foreign firms are quite absent from the legal market in Latin-American countries – and this is also the case for Peru In Peru, the most important law firms are based in Lima, where everything is centralized: one third of the population and nearly half of the country’s lawyers live in the capital. And even though we may have the impression that they are too many lawyers in Lima, a significant number of them are sole practitioners or generalists, and sophisticated firms experienced in corporate law are few and far between, constituting quite a small market of specialists.
A SMALL BUT QUALIFIED MARKET
Aside from sole practitioners or small generalist law firms, the specialist legal market is broken into two types of law firms: full-service firms, and boutiques or niche law firms. There is a place for both. Peruvian lawyers, be they members of a full-service law firm or a niche boutique, are usually highly-qualified. In most cases, all the partners have an LL.M, and lived and worked in the US, the UK or Spain. Another characteristic is that in spite of their busy schedules, almost all the elite lawyers teach in the most important Peruvian law schools. The renowned full-service law firms number no more than twenty (see table on page 39). On the boutique side, we find hyper specialized firms in areas such as environment, mining and energy, restructuring, tax and intellectual property. Examples of a few very well-known boutiques are De la Puente Abogados (environmental and natural resources law), Gálvez, Risso Zegarra & Asociados (tax), BRDA or Barlaw (intellectual property) and Santivañez Abogados (energy). Foreign investments, privatizations, major projects and complex transactions have demanded sophisticated legal services over the past two decades, which have been provided by local players, but they are no longer alone.
THE GROWING APPETITE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW FIRMS
International or regional firms didn’t exist in Latin America until recently. Most of the firms in the countries of the region were local players with no offices abroad. Around three years ago, we witnessed the first change in the Peruvian legal market. In November 2012, Estudio Echecopar, one of the oldest Peruvian law firms, launched an association with Baker & McKenzie. This move is considered a milestone in the Peruvian legal market, as Baker & McKenzie was the first international law firm with a local presence in the country. More recently, in July 2016, the British law firm Kennedys opened an office in Lima that will specialize in insurance and reinsurance. The head of the office is Marco Rivera N. who left Osterling Abogados to join the firm. Furthermore, Rafael Suarez de Lezo, Managing Partner of CMS Albiñana & Suárez de Lezo, has announced that they are finalizing an agreement with a local firm to start operating under the CMS name. Other international law firms have shown an interest in having an office in Peru including Dentons, which recently opened an office in Colombia, and Jones Day.
THE SPANISH WAVE
The second wave came from Spain, through three of the largest Spanish law firms, Uría Menéndez, Garrigues and Cuatrecasas, who attach great importance to the Latin-American markets and wish to create Ibero-American law firms. Garrigues put an end to its network alliance, Affinitas, and decided to open local offices in the region. In 2014 its Lima office was opened and that was followed by Chile in 2015. Uría’s progression has been different: it started with a partnership with Philippi, Prietocarrizosa, which was the result of a merger between Chilean and Colombian law firms. This move positioned Philippi, Prietocarrizosa & Uría as the first Ibero-American law firm. At the beginning of 2016, they finally arrived to Peru through a merger with two local firms, Ferrero Abogados y Delmar Ugarte Abogados, creating Philippi, Pietrocarrizosa, Ferrero DU & Uría. Cuatrecasas is present in Mexico but has no office in Peru, but it is surely only a question of time before they arrive. The market is changing. Globalization obliges that it does. But the market is not very large and the number of local firms that could be targeted by international names are few. Some others will arrive, probably through acquisitions of medium size corporate firms, but it is likely that the top local full-services firms such as Muñiz or Rodrigo will remain independent and continue to be among the top advisors in the local market.