Photo credit: Law School by Tulane Public Relations
Investor attention is turning somewhat away from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) in recent months because their economies haven’t been growing as swiftly as they had been in years past. The four countries that are attracting the attention of international investors are Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey, or MIST for short.
Mexico in particular is attracting a lot of attention from investors; it’s currently the second largest economy in Latin America and is poised to become the world’s seventh largest economy in the coming decades. In fact, Mexico’s economy is predicted to become larger than that of the United Kingdom. Part of the country’s economic growth is due to the country’s conglomerates looking at international capital markets, and part of the growth is due to public/private partnerships in the infrastructure sector. Liberalization of Mexico’s oil sector could also fuel tremendous growth; reforms are currently being discussed inside the country’s government.
The country has one of the world’s most open economies. With a dozen free trade agreements that cover 44 nations, investors from all over the globe are scrambling to set up shop in the Spanish-speaking country. With a highly skilled and motivated workforce, the country has become the darling of international investment community.
The legal sector in Mexico is also very open to foreign firms. Interestingly, foreign law firms don’t need to register with any of the country’s local bar associations, and are allowed to use their home name to open offices. However, only Mexican-licensed lawyers are permitted to appear in court and advise on local law. It must be stated here that foreign law firms are allowed to employ Mexican lawyers to advise on Mexican law, international law, and home country law.
Mexican lawyers are not required to members of Mexico’s six bar associations.
While the legal market is open and bar association membership is not necessary, this does not mean that Mexico’s legal sector is unsophisticated or underserved. In fact, Mexico’s lawyers are among the most highly trained and educated in the world with skills that span the entire legal sector spectrum. The legal market is very competitive and very sophisticated, with a massive number of Mexican lawyers holding law degrees from Ivy League Schools and memberships in United States bar associations. International firms should not think of themselves as “swooping in” to fill a void in the legal market.
The opportunities for foreign law firms appear to exist in partnerships with local firms or with small- to medium-sized firms. Large legal firms in Mexico are few and far between, with “large” in Mexico being a firm with around 70 lawyers. Brazil, on the other hand, has a good number of firms that employ over 200 lawyers. Mexican lawyers are strongly independent, something they do not want to sacrifice by joining large firms.
But it’s quite possible for there to be many opportunities for legal firms who want to establish “spin-off” or boutique legal practices. Because of the sense of independence that Mexican lawyers have, this is one area where the legal market has been growing and the trend does not appear to be slowing down. One of the reasons given for this boutique legal firm growth is that lawyers want to avoid the long wait with larger firms to become partners.