INTERNATIONAL giant Baker & McKenzie has merged with Santiago practice Cruzat, Ortuzar & Mackenna, to establish the first multi-national law firm in the city.
The firm, which has more than 50 offices in 34 countries across the globe, already operates a strong Latin American network with offices in Caracas, Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Head of the London office's Latin American practice group Beatriz Pessoa de Araujo says Chile was "a big hole" in the network. Cruzat - one of the largest and most respected firms in Santiago - was seen as the ideal firm to fill the gap because of its knowledge of both international and Chilean law.
Baker & McKenzie partner Jaime F Malagon, a member of the firm's executive committee, moves from Mexico City to Santiago to handle the integration and development of the office which officially opened at the start of the month.
The merger strengthens Baker & McKenzie's presence in the region, bringing on board a team of partners and associates with broad experience in advising multi-national companies.
"When Baker & McKenzie opens offices abroad it is as a result of a business decision, and not because fashion dictates," says Pessoa de Araujo. "Chile is a booming economy. There's a lot of UK, US and Japanese investment into it and we were getting an increasing amount of work from clients that needed to be done there."
Pessoa de Araujo says Britain is both the largest European investor in Chile and its largest European trading partner. He adds that the opening of the Chilean office means the firm is ideally placed for advising a wide range of clients.
The office currently handles a number of large multi-national companies. Chile's current negotiations to join the North American Free Trade agreement and its hopes of joining the two-way European Union link-up MERCOSUR are expected to increase work potential.
Leon Larrain, who joins as a partner from Cruzat, says the firm hopes to use Baker & McKenzie's global network to grow its client portfolio.
"We already work with several of the region's largest companies," he says. "And we are certain to expand that base, drawing upon the global resources and expertise of the Baker & McKenzie network."