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Central America 2016: Labour, Employment & Immigration

Employers are fraught with challenges when entering the Central American market. Productive sectors loom large in the market and, as such, ensure that many of the region’s workforce are unionised. The relations between employers and the traditional trade unions in the region are becoming increasingly fractious as the economic situation worsens and employees are laid off. Another concern is the discrepancy between local labour codes and codes of conduct at larger multinational corporations, which has been seen as something that must be challenged if the region is to attract a greater share of foreign investment. Certain lawyers have called for multinationals to align their codes of conduct with the principles enshrined in national labour codes. 

A number of Central American countries have also taken steps to reform their labour codes in recent years. In 2013, Nicaragua saw the reformation of the national labour code allowing for labour disputes to be registered before a judge verbally and concluded orally. This reform, coupled with a new fixed time limit, has ensured that cases are now concluded more quickly and has seen the backlog of cases reduced by 50 per cent. In 2016, Costa Rica followed suit with the Labour Procedure Reform. These significant amendments, due to come into effect in mid-2017, will impact labour law procedure, collective bargaining law and individual labour law. Employers will need to update their practices surrounding discrimination complaints and dismissals, and react to the impact of the loosening of restrictions regarding collective bargaining.

We have identified a diversified offering of 45 leading practitioners from 26 firms across seven Central American jurisdictions. The isthmus’ regional players are well represented in this chapter reflecting a desire among clients for an integrated approach to multi-local laws. That being said, our listings also show that there are a number of national full service law firms who stand out for the provision of specialised local knowledge that is so important for the practice of labour law. Meanwhile, BDS Asesores’ prominence highlights the need for a simultaneously comprehensive and specialised offering.

Costa Rica

International labour and employment law boutique BDS Asesores is a member firm of Littler Global, which boasts over 1,000 attorneys in more than 70 offices worldwide. It is a clear leader in the region and garners three inclusions in Costa Rica alone. The firm’s managing partner Marco-Durante Calvo is celebrated as “one of the brightest lights in the Costa Rican market”, with sources stating that he has an “excellent knowledge of both domestic and international labour law”. Co-founding partner Francisco Salas Chaves specialises in counselling domestic and multinational companies in preventive and corrective labour matters. Peers consider him to be “a doyen of labour law”, with a particular focus on public administration. His colleague in the firm’s San Jose office Alejandro Trejos Gomez is regarded as an expert in the field of employee data protection and social media interaction, with clients praising his “industry foresight” and “dynamic approach”.

Integrated Central American law firm Aguilar Castillo Love is represented by two exceptional lawyers: John Aguilar-Quesada and Marco Solano Gómez. According to sources, Aquilar-Quesada is a “luminary” in the Costa Rican market, providing “top-class services” to foreign investors looking to expand into Costa Rica. Gómez is a talented corporate lawyer with considerable experience dealing with the labour and employment issues raised during complex, cross-border transactions.

Full-service firm Lex Counsel is a favoured outfit in the labour, employment and immigration market in Costa Rica. The firm’s practice provides both domestic and foreign clients alike with in-depth, localised knowledge of Costa Rican labour and immigration law. The firm impresses market commentators this year, garnering two inclusions. Paola Gutierrez is “a rising star” in the field whose work encompasses traditional labour law, as well as preventive and contentious matters. Juan Jose Carreras is considered to be “a talented litigator” with a particular expertise in labour and employment disputes.

Arias & Muñoz boast exceptional reach across Central America, with four listings across four different Central American jurisdictions. The firm prides itself on offering its clients a comprehensive, cross-border service.  Head of the practice Anna Karina Jiménez stands out for her considerable insight into both Costa Rican labour legislation and international trade legislation. She is “highly sought after” for her expertise, which includes considerable experience acting for foreign executives and expats looking to meet immigration requirements.

At Central Law, Graciela Fuentes is pipped to be “an exciting prospect” who already has substantial expertise when advising on administrative and HR-focused legal matters. She is “an intuitive practitioner that is particularly adept at developing and adapting creative, preventative methods”, according to one respondent.

Randall González heads the corporate labour law department at BLP and is considered by his peers to be a “top-drawer practitioner” with a wealth of experience in high-profile lawsuits. Clients praise his “case-winning strategies” and “superior knowledge of both local and international labour law”.

At Fragomen Costa Rica Immigration Services, Federico Solis heads the firm’s Latin American and Caribbean practice. He is “a renowned specialist in international immigration law”, as well as being highly regarded in labour and employment matters.

Dominican Republic

At Headrick Rizik Alvarez & Fernandez, head of the labour and employment department Tomas Hernández Metz is commended for his impressive practice focusing on labour disputes. For many clients he is “the first port of call for complex cases requiring a heavyweight litigator.”

Santiago-based Gomez-Aranda, Diaz & Asociados is strong in labour and employment law with clients commending their “international and commercial outlook”. Respondents praised founding partner Gerónimo Gomez-Aranda’s insight into local labour law and credited him with “always going the extra mile to see the case through”.

In Squire Patton Boggs’ Santo Domingo office, the “exceptional” Pedro Gamundi is singled out for his work on complex cross-border labour matters. Respondents were impressed with “his methodical efficiency” which ensured that “matters were resolved quickly and successfully”.

El Salvador

Salvadorean firm Valdés Suárez & Velasco is represented by two stand out lawyers in the field of labour, employment and immigration. Mario Sánchez Chinchilla looms large in the domestic market. He is commended for his “impressively broad practice” and “considerable insight” into local labour law. Sources praise the work of Carlos Urbina Blandón, commended for his considerable expertise in the telecommunications sector.

BDS Asesores also has a strong offering in El Salvador. Jaime Solís Canjura is an “outstanding practitioner” in the field of labour law with “extensive experience in preventative and corrective work”.

Guatemala

Guatemalan boutique offering Montoya Abogados offers clients the benefits of “an intimate, client-focused approach” that comes from its seven-strong team. The firm has an enviable client list representing such multinationals as Colgate, PepsiCo, Citibank and Novartis. According to peers, the firm is particularly adept at managing the affairs of international clients looking to expand their business interests into Guatemala. Founding partner Marco Fabio Montoya is “a market-leading authority” who boasts over 20 years of experience in labour law.

At BUFELCO, founding partner Guillermo López Cordero is singled out as a “pre-eminent” figure in Guatemalan labour and employment law, with a wealth of domestic and international clients, including Unilever, Banco Industrial and AviancaTaca.

Arias & Muñoz’s Liz Gordillo has a broad practice dedicated to labour, employment and Immigration law amongst others. She is noted for her “strong technical ability”, “pragmatic approach” and “personable style”.

As the managing partner of Bonilla Montano Toriello & Barrios Abogados, Jorge Rolando Barrios is an outstanding member of the Guatemalan bar who is “extremely well regarded” and “highly sought after” according to peers.

At Consortium Legal, founding partner of the network’s Guatemalan offering Lionel Francisco Aguilar Salguero is “a titan” in the Guatemalan market. Vastly experienced in both labour and immigration law, clients were effusive in their praise of his service noting that his “intimate knowledge of the country’s labour code”.

Evelyn Rebuli V directs the QIL+4 Abogados’ labour law department and is praised for her “fantastic ability to tailor her advice and strategy to the method of dispute resolution required for the case”.

At Valenzuela Herrera y Asociados, founding partner Augusto Valenzuela has been described as “a leading name” in the Guatemalan labour market. He has significant expertise assisting domestic, international and government entities on the full spectrum of labour and employment related issues including social security, litigation and corporate immigration.

Honduras

López Rodezno & Asociados is one of the oldest firms in Honduras. Its practice provides clients with the full spectrum of labour and employment advice. Sergio Bendaña López is regarded as the “star of the practice” providing clients with “detailed, solutions-oriented advice that streamline cross-border transactions”.

Nicaragua

Róger Pérez at Arias & Muñoz is regarded as “a rising star in the Nicaraguan market” who is widely acclaimed for his “commercial awareness”.

Consortium Legal’s Bertha Xiomara Ortega Castillo heads the labour law practice in Nicaragua. She has extensive experience in all aspects of labour law, particularly with regard to disputes. According to sources, “She is a gifted litigator with a fantastic understanding of domestic and regional labour law.”

Managua-based independent firm Alvarado y Asociado boasts one inclusion in this year’s research. As the Lex Mundi representative for Nicaragua, the firm is able to provide domestic and international clients with the scope and resources to ensure that their corporate employment practices can expand into Nicaragua and worldwide. Luz Marina Espinoza Ruiz provides clients with expertise in labour and syndicate law. She is described by peers as “a tireless professional who is respected for going above and beyond for her clients”.

Panama

Mendoza Arias Valle & Castillo’s impressive labour practice represents some of the biggest corporations in Panama’s industrial and commercial sector. The firm’s team provides comprehensive service offering dispute resolution services, and labour audits as well as management training and coaching. Clients are regularly impressed with the firm, maintaining that they are “a one-stop shop” for labour, employment and corporate immigration matters. Founding partner Eduardo Valle is known as “a prodigious practitioner” with considerable expertise in collective bargaining agreements and labour disputes. Clients were impressed by his “intimate knowledge of Central American labour and employment law”. Arajair Valle Lam is a corporate immigration specialist whose “prestigious practice” focuses on visa and naturalisation procedures, as well as work permits and strategies to ensure that multinationals are able to bring in the individuals that they need from abroad. Humberto Hernandéz Jiménez is a highly regarded practitioner. His practice focuses on labour and procedural law generally with a focus on collective agreement negotiations, individual and collective conciliations, as well as dispute resolution in Panama’s labour courts. Rubén Martín Castillo Gil is another of the firm’s labour litigation experts with clients praising “his strategic acumen and powerful arguments”. He is often involved in litigating on behalf of employers in individual and collective reconciliations, as well as handling litigations in civil, criminal and administrative proceedings.

BDS Asesores is well represented in Panama achieving three listings. María Teresa Mendoza is a partner in the firm’s labour practice and is particularly proficient in the treatment of expatriate executives and offers advisory services to companies operating under special free zone schemes and similar matters. Albalira Montúfar is well known throughout the region for her impressive immigration practice. Clients describe her work in the field as “outstanding”, citing her as “a go-to lawyer” for corporate immigration issues. Ricardo Alemán is a prestigious practitioner in the field in Panama. As a member of the tripartite commission revising the labour code in Panama, clients were unanimous in their acclaim for his “unparalleled insight into Panamanian labour law”.

At Arosemena Noriega & Contreras, José Miguel Navarrete heads the firm’s labour and employment practice and is a prodigious litigator with “a real sense of the issues faced by large companies and foreign investors”. He is also regarded as one of the go-to lawyers for those looking to expand their operations into panama. He is joined by the “eminent” Julio César Contreras III is lauded for his vast wealth of expertise, with over 40 years of experience, he is considered “a statesman-like figure in the market”.

Icaza Gonzalez-Ruiz Alemán’s labour and employment practice acts for large multinationals and their corporate interest in Panama. For example, the firm has offered advice, counsel and support to Caterpillar, GlaxoSmithKline and Samsung amongst others. Head of department Javier José Vallarino is praised for overseeing and handling the vast majority of the firm’s cases personally. He is commended by peers and clients alike for “the ease at which he navigates complex issues” and “his ability to coordinate and manage the different parties involved”.

Enna Ferrer de Carles leads Alfaro Ferrer & Ramirez’s labour and immigration practice. She is commended for her “standout expertise in the field”, boasting a practice focused almost entirely on labour, employment and corporate immigration issues. According to one source, she is “one of the foremost labour experts in the country” and is “the first port of call for complicated labour issues.” She is joined by Juan Gabriel Gonzalez Saavedra, a “veritable expert in Panamanian labour and social security law” with “a strong grasp of the issues faced by large corporate entities in Central America”.

In Arias & Muñoz’s Panama City office, Siaska Lorenzo is credited for her broad practice encompassing labour law. According to respondents, she is a “strong negotiator who handles tough interactions between the diverse parties with ease”.

Panamanian offshore specialist Alemán Cordero Galindo & Lee garners one “excellent” inclusion in this year’s research. Jorge Federico Lee is commended for having built an impressive practice encapsulating traditional labour law. According to sources, Lee is “a forthright practitioner that goes the extra mile”.

Morgan & Morgan’s Mercedes Grimaldo heads the labour and immigration law practice group and has practiced for over three decades in the field. Clients appreciate her “focus and dynamism in the face of difficult labour and immigration issues”.

The “excellent” Rocco Naranjo Spina at Mauad & Mauad is praised for his abilities in the handling of corporate immigration strategies, as well as his litigation prowess on behalf of large employers.

Maria Zúñiga is head of Arias Fábrega & Fábrega’s labour and immigration practice group. Respondents are effusive in their praise of her commerciality and the lengths at which she went to in order to facilitate her client’s needs. She is also “a talented litigator”, with peers maintaining that she makes “a formidable opponent”.

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