Lex Mex 2015

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Lex Mex 2015

Kidd Aitken Director Jacob Aitken gives his thoughts on Lex Mex 2015.

Last week I had the privilege to speak at Lex Mex 2015 in London. This annual event is organised by the Mexican Chamber of Commerce and the Law Society in order to discuss latest developments in Mexico.

Justice Fernando Franco González-Salas (Mexican Supreme Court of Justice)

The key note speaker was Justice Franco from the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice, which guaranteed a full-house. Justice Franco provided fascinating insights into the development and evolution of the Mexican legal market, system and judiciary and took time to answer some pertinent questions.

What struck me most was his description of a changing legal landscape against a backdrop of huge projected economic growth. Simply astounding numbers of cutting-edge law schools are producing an ever-increasing surplus of lawyers, which involves a range of potential problems, particularly as there is currently no requirement to join a bar association in order to practice law in Mexico.

Justice Franco was positive about the changes that lay ahead, as the market continues to grow, but also acknowledged the challenges. The Mexican Supreme Court has a huge workload, resolving incredible numbers of cases in comparison with similar Supreme Courts around the world. The Mexican court system also remains slow, with many cases taking years to resolve.

The Panels

Chris Cardona of Holman Fenwick Willan, Luis González García of Matrix Chamber and Pía Sánchez of Lewis Silkin provided a  thoughtful discussion on areas of bilateral work and collaboration between Mexican firms and London-based firms. It was interesting to hear their opinions, based on personal experience, on how to develop and maintain relationships with Latin American law firms and clients and the type of business opportunities available. There was a strong focus on the London legal market’s superiority over the US legal market in terms of collaborating with Mexican firms and clients on very specific, highly specialised areas of law, despite the geographical proximity of Mexico to the US and the on-the-ground presence of numerous US law firms in Mexico.

This was followed by another absorbing panel discussion on the main trends and challenges with regard to recent legal developments in Mexico, between Ricardo Ríos Ferrer of the Barra Mexicana Colegio de Abogados, Michell Nader S. of Nader, Hayaux & Goebel and Héctor González Graf of labour boutique Marvan Gonzalez Graf y Gonzalez Larrazolo. The discussion naturally focused on the mammoth market reforms that have taken place in Mexico over the past two years, particularly with the opening up of the oil & gas sector (after 76 years of monopoly!) and the telecoms sector. The opportunities for business and consequently for legal work are immense.

Lord Daniel Brennan QC

Lord Brennan provided another angle in his inimitable style. Interesting and witty, he provided insights into UK-Mexico bilateral collaboration, emphasising the historical collaboration between the UK and Mexico and the vast opportunities for business between the countries going forward.

Update on the Legal Industry in Mexico

I was in fact first up, as speaker, and had the pleasure to present alongside my old friend Leopoldo Hernández from KermaPartners. Between us, we provided an update on the legal industry in Mexico, covering a range of topics from the projected growth of the Mexican economy and FDI, to tendencies and structural changes in the Mexican legal market and the growing presence of international firms.

There has been an array of structural changes in the Mexican legal market in recent years, which have gathered pace as a result of Mexico’s market reforms and efforts to boost foreign investment. The most apparent of these is the entry of so many international firms into the market, which has increased competition and forced local firms to renew their strategies, develop new practice areas and hire new lawyers. Alongside this, the growing importance of the Big Four, and their aim to increase their participation in the provision of legal services, has had a knock-on effect, changing the type of legal services available in the market and adding another type of competitor. In the context of all these changes, clients are requiring, and expecting, higher levels of expertise, particularly in the newly opened sectors of oil and gas and telecoms. Local firms have had to build practices, often from the ground up, while many international firms have been able to leverage off their experience in these sectors in other jurisdictions.

An incredible number of international firms are now present in Mexico. We managed to count 27 in total! US firms in particular continue to play an increasing role in the market, with many new players arriving on the back of the major market reforms, particularly in the oil & gas sector. The latest to enter the market was Mayer Brown, as recently as August this year, specifically as a result of the energy reforms. There is no sign of this trend ending, nor is it a question of establishing small or representative offices. International firms are making a serious commitment to Mexico. A year ago, Hogan Lovells moved in, merging with long-established full-service firm Barrera, Siqueiros y Torres Landa, thereby becoming one of the market’s largest international firms (with 16 partners and a headcount of around 70 at the time, and further growth since). The likes of Greenberg Traurig and DLA Piper have also merged with local firms, or incorporated them into their structures.

There is also an amazing amount of fluidity with regard to hiring in the market, and importantly, it is not just international firms hiring from local firms. International firms are poaching from each other: DLA Piper’s former Mexico team joined Baker & McKenzie; Holland & Knight hired lawyers from DLA Piper; and both Greenberg Traurig and Haynes & Boone lost partners to Jones Day. Other notable international firms include Haynes and Boone and Holland & Knight, which have both steadily built their local market share; leading corporate player White & Case; and labour specialists Littler, De la Vega y Conde SC. It is not just US firms either; several Spanish firms are present, most notably Spanish heavyweight Garrigues, which opened a Mexico office in 2013.

The growing presence and clout of international firms in Mexico has created a reaction from local firms. There has been a scramble to make sure firms (both international and local) are best equipped to provide the range of services required by clients in light of the new reforms. In this context, we have seen Mexican firms increasing their headcounts and hiring lawyers in key practice areas, particularly tax, where many such firms have not traditionally had a significant practice, if any practice at all.

The Lex Mex 2015 full line-up is here.

I would highly recommend next year’s event to both UK and Mexican lawyers looking to increase their bilateral work and collaboration.