While Hogan Lovells confirmed Monday that it had shuttered its Caracas, Venezuela, office, established in 2005, international megafirm Baker McKenzie is staying put. It has been in Venezuela since 1955, when Caracas became the first office outside of the United States for the firm as it started to grow beyond its Chicago origins.
“While the country’s current political and economic environment have created a host of new and unexpected challenges, we remain steadfast in our commitment to helping our clients navigate through them,” Baker McKenzie Venezuela managing partner Ronald Evans said in an email. “Just last week, we celebrated our 63rd anniversary in Caracas with a series of client events, in which we discussed some of the most pressing legal issues affecting the business community.”
The backdrop to the firm’s operations in Venezuela is increasingly grim. While President Nicolás Maduro won a second term on Sunday night, turnout was low, and opposition parties pledged to push for new elections later this year. Meanwhile, the country’s economy is in shambles, with the International Monetary Fund estimating the inflation rate at over 13,000 percent, and migrants streaming across the borders to Colombia and Brazil.
Still, Evans said that in the last year, the firm has hired a lateral partner in its tax group, continued to add talent in strategic areas, and moved to a new office in Valencia, the third largest city in the country.
“Through it all, we remain a dedicated team of locally based lawyers who thrive on providing best-in-class legal advice to leading multinationals and local clients in the Venezuelan market,” Evans added.
Baker McKenzie says it now has 11 partners and 15 associates in Venezuela. That’s down from 32 attorneys in June 2016.
Meanwhile, the ongoing instability prompted Hogan Lovells to reassess its operations in the country.
“Earlier this year we closed our formal office, but we have a strong commitment to our clients and we continue to have a presence there to provide on the ground support as necessary and six Venezuelan qualified lawyers in other offices,” a spokesman said in an email Monday. The firm had 11 lawyers in its Caracas office in June 2016.
Norton Rose Fulbright, which has been serving clients in Venezuela since 1996, lists 27 attorneys in Caracas. That number was at 37 in 2016. A spokesman for the firm did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Labor and employment powerhouse Littler Mendelson is a relatively recent arrival, entering the country in 2010 and opening offices in both Caracas and Valencia. According to a spokeswoman, the Caracas office currently has 12 lawyers, four paralegals and a full administrative staff. The firm listed 17 lawyers two years ago.
“We are helping our global clients doing business in Venezuela to navigate the political/economic crisis and protect their assets in the country,” office managing partner Juan Carlos Varela, who also boasts a Miami phone number, said in a statement. “Our clients are dealing with extremely difficult labor and employment issues, and we are working side-by-side with employers to help them with very complex legal needs in these trying times.”
Other firms have exited earlier. DLA Piper, for example, abandoned its Venezuela presence in 2016, ending a five-year-old formal alliance with Venezuelan firm InterJuris Abogados. That firm’s Venezuelan leader, Juan José Delgado, is now a DLA Piper partner listed in Miami.
Squire Patton Boggs predecessor firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey had a booming practice in Caracas for several years after its 2005 opening in the city. Squire eventually pulled out of Caracas after restructuring its relationship with a local firm and before becoming Squire Patton Boggs two years ago.