The Rise of Big Law in Colombia
Drawing from interviews with partners at large Colombian law firms, and using a database provided by one of the participants in our research, this chapter presents a general description of Big Law in Colombia. Furthermore, this chapter tries to answer the following question: what were the variables that unleashed the emergence of Big Law in Colombia? It argues that the “opening” of Colombia’s economy championed by the Gaviria administration (1990–1994) provided the main incentives for the emergence of Big Law in Colombia. However, we also show how some lawyers pioneered Big Law by transforming family-based firms into highly specialized firms that share profits among partners and offered reliable, long-step legal careers for young lawyers. This chapter shows how local and global legal education plays out at Colombia’s leading law firms. It shows that three elite law schools—Los Andes, Javeriana and Rosario—predominate at the “big four” firms. It also shows how having an LL.M. and, more importantly, acquiring some experience at US or UK law firms became a powerful booster for the careers of young lawyers. Finally, this chapter explores some challenges to the traditional Big Law model in Colombia. On the one hand, it discusses how the arrival of large international firms like Garrigues and Baker Mckenzie, where ambitious and sophisticated lawyers can have long-step career and become partners at a multinational organization, may challenge the job offers at traditional local firms like Brigard & Urrutia, where mobility to the top of the organization seems to be blocked. On the other hand, it discusses the mergers between local and international firms, and the challenges of doing pro bono work in the big law field.