How to Find a Lawyer
If you plan to go into business, work, buy or sell property or seek long term
residency status in Costa Rica, you will definitely need the services of
a trustworthy and professional attorney.
Your attorney can help you understand the complexities of the Costa
Rican legal system, which is based on Napoleonic law. You are guilty until
proven innocent, just the opposite of the system in the United States. Also,
one of the most frustrating experiences in Costa Rica is the amount of time
and money it takes to accomplish anything judicially. It is well known that
the judicial process in Costa Rica is complicated and requires time, patience
and money to traverse. So, a good lawyer is one of the best investments you
can make because he can assist you with bureaucratic procedures and handle
other legal matters that arise.
If you are not fully bilingual, be sure to choose a lawyer who is bilingual.
The secretary should be bilingual too (Spanish/English). This helps avoid
communication problems and misunderstandings and enables you to stay
on top of your legal affairs.
One such office would be the Munoz Global Law Firm The Muñoz team of 75 lawyers, specialists and law clerks intends to combine with Dentons to offer our clients more than 7,600 lawyers around the world.
Muñoz and Dentons both offer leading attorneys with substantive local legal expertise and unmatched industry knowledge to ensure that clients have access to the finest legal representation at home and around the globe.
It is very important to watch your lawyer closely, since most Costa Rican
lawyers tend to drag their feet as bureaucrats do.
Never take anything for granted. Refuse to believe that things are getting
done, even if you are assured they are. Check with your lawyer on a regular
basis and ask to see your file to make sure he has taken care of business. As
you might imagine, paperwork moves slowly in Costa Rica, so you do not
want a procrastinating lawyer to prolong the process.
When you first contact a lawyer, make sure he is accessible at all hours.
Make sure you have your lawyer’s office and home telephone number in
case you need him in an emergency. If you are told your lawyer is always
“in meetings” or “out of the office,” this is a clear sign your work is being
neglected and you have chosen the wrong lawyer.
Know your lawyer’s specialty. Although most attorneys are required to
have a general knowledge of Costa Rican law, you may need a specialist to
deal with your specific case. Some people find it is a good idea to have several
lawyers for precisely this reason.
Take your time and look around when you are trying to find a lawyer.
This should be fairly easy since there are more than 7,000 lawyers from
whom to choose. You should ask friends, other people, retirees and other
knowledgeable people for the names of their lawyers. Above all, make sure
your attorney is recommended by a reliable source. Then try to inquire
about your potential lawyer’s reputation, his work methods and integrity.
Here are some tips for finding a lawyer in Costa Rica:
1. Ask your fellow ex-pats for recommendations. They have been there
and done that. be careful here because almost every Gringo brags that
he or she has the best lawyer with the best connections.
2. Do not let advertising influence your decision. It is only a paid ad.
Anyone can do that.
3. If you do have a problem, you CAN file a complaint against an attorney,
but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to get another attorney to
represent you so be prepared to represent yourself which requires fluent
4. Do not automatically trust someone who appears in forums as an
“expert”. There is way more involved in Costa Rica legal transactions
5. Never, ever pay the entire amount required up front. Pay no more than
one-half initially and one-half upon completion.
6. Remember that sometimes the “giving your word” concept is not understood
here as in other countries.
7. A good clue is if the attorney makes the appointment for 2 or 3 in the
afternoon, it is possible that is when he begins the work day. Most
government offices close from 3 to 4:30 for the day, leaving little time
for attorney “work”.
8. Ask for at least 2 recommendations for a particular attorney.
9. And if you are personally involved with an attorney, go elsewhere for
your legal work.
10. Do not trust an attorney (or anyone else) just because they speak English.
If you find yourself in a jam before finding a lawyer, contact the
Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) for assistance, ask a friend for
a recommendation or contact one of the lawyers mentioned in this section.
All over the world, there are always a few incompetent, unscrupulous
attorneys, so be careful with whom you are dealing before you make your
final choice. Remember, one of the most important people in your life in
Costa Rica is your lawyer, so it is imperative that you develop a good working
Most attorneys charge from $25 to $50 or more an hour depending
on your problem and their expertise. It is inadvisable to select your lawyer
solely on the basis of legal fees. Lawyer’s fees, or honorarios, vary. The fee
table used by attorneys and notaries in Costa Rica is more of a guideline than
a strict pricing rule. However, when it is convenient for the professional to
use it, they adhere to it rigidly. This is normally the case when something is
easy to do and takes virtually no time at all and should cost much less than
the fee schedule states. On the other hand, with truly complex matters that
go far beyond the scope of the pricing of the fee table, the same professional
will discard it and ask for more money. Understand the fee table they use is
a guideline and realize that all fees can be negotiated.
Just because a lawyer is expensive does not mean he is good. Likewise,
you should not select an attorney because his fees are low. When hiring a
lawyer to do a job it is advisable to pay a third to a half up front, with the
balance to be paid when the job is completed. If the attorney insists on more
than 50 percent up front, you should get another attorney.
Check with the Costa Rican version of the Bar Association (El Colegio
de Abogados) www.abogados.or.cr if you have any questions about legal
fees. They responsible entity for setting all fees for attorneys and notaries,
however some fees are determined by the amount of the transaction.
A notary is needed to transfer a vehicle because they need to put the
transaction in their protocol book, make a testimony of the act, and submit
it to the Registro Nacional. The same is true for the transfer of a property
in this country.
In addition to forms for transferring assets, most states in the United
States have approved, standardized forms that people can use for a variety of
other legal matters, even divorce. There are very few forms one can use here
for certain legal activities. The most common is for renting of an apartment
or a house. Forms are available but very hard to find for a rental agreement.
The rule of thumb in this country is a person needs an attorney for court and
a notary for anything official that needs registration in the Registro Nacional.
The notary fee, as much as 1.5 percent of the deal for property transfers,
is a drag on the economy.
In theory, all this mumbo jumbo and added official paperwork is to curb
fraudulent transactions when, in fact, what it has done is contributed to an
increase in property crime and the illegal transfer of other assets as well.
Here are two facts most people do not know regarding legal professionals.
Attorneys and notaries have a kind of insurance to cover errors and omission
and outright negligence. However, the amount of insurance is so minuscule
that it is virtually worthless in a legal dispute. In addition, the statute of
limitations for the bar association to discipline, as in suspend or expel a legal
professional, is only two years from the date of the act. Not the date one
finds out about it, but from the actually date of the mistake.
In Costa Rica it is not uncommon to hire a lawyer on a full-time basis
by paying what amounts to a small retainer. If you find a lawyer who will
handle your pensionado or residency paperwork for under $500, you have
found a bargain.
However, if you speak fluent Spanish and have a lot of patience, you
can do your residency or pensionado paperwork yourself. Just pick up a list
of the requirements from the Immigration office.
If you choose this route you can save yourself hundreds of dollars in
attorneys’ fees. All a lawyer does is just sign a couple of papers, turn them
in at the Immigration office and take your money.
There is a small amount of paperwork involved in giving your lawyer
power of attorney (poder) so he can take care of your personal business and
This is not a bad idea when you may have to leave the country for a
period of time or in the event of an emergency. However, first make sure
your lawyer is completely trustworthy and competent. You may either choose
to give your attorney poder general (general power of attorney) or poder
especial (special power of attorney). You may revoke both types of power of
attorney at any time.
If a foreigner lives or has assets in Costa Rica he or she should have a
will. Your lawyer can help you with this.
By the way, lawsuits can last longer than in the states.
One thing that you should know is that prenuptial agreements work
differently here. Unlike many countries, in Costa Rica one can sign this
type of agreement before or during marriage, and even after it has been
signed and during the marriage itself, it can be changed or terminated if
both parties, so wish.
Costa Rica does have common law marriage, in which two people living
together, without being officially married, acquire rights similar to married
couples if certain requirements are met. However, the law here does not
permit prenupcial agreements to govern or wave rights acquired through
If you want answers to most of your questions about the complex
Costa Rican legal system, purchase The Legal Guide To Costa Rica by Roger
Petersen. Although this book is no substitute for a good lawyer, it is still very
useful for the layman. This guide may be purchased from www.amazon.
com. If you have any questions, contact Mr. Peterson at: Tel: 2233-5219,
Fax: 2233-2507 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This comprehensive guide contains sample forms and documents. It
covers the most common situations you will encounter in Costa Rica: real
estate transactions, corporations, commercial transactions, Immigration,
labor laws, taxation, wills, marriage and much more.
We also recommend purchasing a copy of Diccionario de Términos
Jurídicos by Enrique Alcaraz. It is a complete English-Spanish dictionary of
legal terms. McGraw-Hill’s Spanish and English Legal Dictionary by Henry
Saint Dahl is another good legal dictionary.
Here is a partial list of bilingual attorneys who have many North
Lic. Ruhal Barrientos Saborio
Tel: 011-(506) 2291-5884
Lic. José Fernando Carter Vargas
Lic. Henry Lang