Legal Assistance

Please note: The Department of State assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the entities or individuals whose names appear on the following lists. Inclusion on this list is in no way an endorsement by the Department or the U.S. government. Names are listed alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. The information on the list is provided directly by the local service providers; the Department is not in a position to vouch for such information.

Retaining an Attorney in Costa Rica

The following guidelines may assist you in protecting your interests when retaining the services of a Costa Rican attorney, with reference to a private party dispute, a domestic relations dispute, or a small commercial transaction.

I. Selecting an Attorney

The Consular Section can provide you a compiled list of local attorneys.  It would be wise for you to contact several attorneys, briefly describing the nature of the services you desire, before choosing one.  The list of attorneys contains some guidance as to the specialties of each of the attorneys, which may allow you to narrow your choices.  The Costa Rican Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados) publishes a schedule of Minimum Fees, which attorneys in Costa Rica have to charge by law.  Be advised, however, that depending on the complexities of the case, the expertise of the attorney and other factors, the fees can be substantially higher than the ones contained in the official schedule.

In any case, before you decide which attorney to retain, determine whether the attorney is fluent in English and ask for a written estimate of his/her fees, including a detailed description of the work to be performed.  It is suggested not to  pay until you are satisfied that your attorney understands your case, you agree with the case strategy, the attorney is willing to handle it, and that the conditions are clearly agreed to for both sides, including how often and how communication will take place with your attorney.  Always ask for a receipt signed by your attorney for any payment you make, and save the corresponding proof of any deposits or a fund wired into the attorney’s or law firm’s account. It is important to point out that if in the middle of the process you want to change attorneys, he/she will have to present to the court reviewing the case a statement indicating that the correspondent fees have been cancelled before another legal representative can be appointed to the same case.

II. Notaries Public

In Costa Rica most attorneys are notaries, and most importantly, to be a notary you ought to be an attorney.  As a matter of fact, in many instances attorneys’ and notaries’ public functions intertwine.  This means that your attorney can draft instruments, wills and conveyances, and later acknowledge the authenticity of those documents.  He/she can also witness your identity and legal capacity to sign these documents.

III. Assistance of the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose

Should your association with a Costa Rican attorney prove unsatisfactory, a U.S. Consular Office may, if requested, contact the attorney to facilitate communication.  In addition, repetitive and grounded complaints against an attorney who appears on the Consular Section’s List of Attorneys may result in the removal of the name from the list.  If you have a complaint against an attorney on the list, please notify the Consular Section immediately by writing to ACSSanJose@state.gov.

The Consular Section can also advise you how to file a complaint with the local bar association, including complaints about fees.  You may find information about filing a complaint at the following Bar Association.

IV. Coordination with Counsel in the U.S

American attorneys cannot represent your interests in Costa Rica except with the assistance of local counsel.  American attorneys experienced in international law may, however, be helpful in explaining the complex international issues involved in your case.  Some American attorneys may have associates, partners or correspondents in Costa Rica to whom they can refer you to.

V. Free Legal Aid in Costa Rica

There are some free legal aid associations in Costa Rica.  Many entities and sites were described at the beginning of the list.  Some Costa Rican attorneys do pro-bono work.  Also, the Universidad de Costa Rica’s law school (Facultad de Derecho) sponsors a program called Consultorios Jurídicos.  Consultorios Juridícos are legal-aid offices staffed by law students and supervised by a resident attorney.  These offices handle small labor disputes, certain domestic relations cases, and a few other civil cases.  These offices do not handle commercial transactions, immigration, or criminal matters.  Remember that if you decide to take your case to a Consultorio Jurídico, a law student, not an attorney, will handle your case and he/she may not speak English.  For more information about Consultorios Jurídicos you may contact the Universidad de Costa Rica’s Law School at the numbers or site listed above.

The Costa Rican Judiciary provides free defense counsel for criminal matters and very limited family matters.  It is important to understand that these public defenders carry heavy caseloads, and they might not be bilingual.  Defendants have the right to a translator by law.

VI. How to Deal with Your Costa Rican private attorney

a. Find out the attorney’s qualifications and experience.

b. Find out how the attorney plans to represent you.  Ask specific questions and explain that you expect the attorney to explain legal matters in a language that you can understand.

c. Find out what fees the attorney charges and in what manner he/she expects to be paid.  Some attorneys expect to be paid in advance, others demand a deposit before taking action, and still others prefer to be paid in installments tied to the actions taken.  It is uncommon for attorneys to take cases on a percentage basis, but it could be possible depending on the case or circumstances.

d. Ask that your attorney keep you informed of the progress of your case, preferably in writing, according to a pre-established schedule.  A clear agreement on communication channels and frequency of communication is very important to keep a healthy relationship with your attorney.  Be aware that court cases in Costa Rica can take months, even years to be resolved.  Therefore, you may wish the attorney to send you periodic reports, even though no real developments have ensued, simply to satisfy your wish to track the progress of the case.

e. Have your attorney analyze your case, giving you the positive and negative aspects, and both possible and probable outcomes, and have him/her describe the possible processes or strategies he/she would take to solve your problem.

f. Do not expect your attorney to give a simple answer to a complex legal problem.  Be sure that you understand the technical language in any contract or other legal document prepared by your attorney before you sign it.  If your attorney is acting as a Notary Public, make sure that he/she states in whatever public instrument he/she drafts for you that he/she has translated the instrument into English because of your inability to understand Spanish.  This statement may safeguard your interests in case your attorney commits an error in translation.  When signing a document in a foreign language, it is suggested that someone you trust who is fluent in the other language should accompany you so he/she can review the document that you’re signing and what your attorney is saying the document indicates/states.

g. Keep your attorney fully informed of any new developments in the case.

h. If you need to provide complex or technical documents to your attorney, you may wish to consider having the documents translated into the native language.  Remember, an elementary knowledge of English may not be enough to enable the attorney to understand the documents you provide.

i. Be honest with your attorney.  Tell the attorney every relevant fact in order to get the best representation for your interests.

j. Find out how much time the attorney estimates the case may take to complete.

k. Be aware that should you decide to change attorneys in the middle of a case, you must obtain a statement from your original attorney that no fees are owed, and the date on which he/she separated from the case.

l. Request copies of all letters and documents prepared on your behalf.  Should you decide to change attorneys, ask for your file before you make final payment of fees.

VII. Complaints against a Costa Rican Attorney:

If the services of your Costa Rican attorney prove unsatisfactory, in addition to notifying the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, you may address your complaints to the local bar association:

Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Costa Rica (Costa Rican Bar Association)

Address: From the Social Guarantee roundabout (Rotonda de Garnatías Sociales), 200 meters West, 100 meters North.

Webpage: http://www.abogados.or.cr

There is a specific site to file a complaint against an attorney.

The Costa Rican Bar Association has a link for the Professional Ethics Code that could be consulted at the following site (Code is in Spanish):

https://www.abogados.or.cr/uploads/CMS/Articulo/2.0Codigo_de_Deberes_Juridicos.pdf  (PDF -83Kb)

If the services provided by the attorney were based on notarial services, you must file the complaint at the Dirección General de Notariado (Notary National Directorate)  http://consulta.dnn.go.cr/consultapublica/

Ph: (506) 2528-5756

Address: West side of  Mall San Pedro, Oficentro Sigma Business Center, Building A, 5th Floor.

Webpage: http://consulta.dnn.go.cr

Attorneys do not have to be notaries to practice law in Costa Rica, but as indicated before, all notaries must be attorneys.  All attorneys must belong to the Colegio de Abogados, Costa Rica’s bar association, and notaries must be registered with the Dirección Nacional de Notariado.

Documents to be used in Costa Rica from a foreign country must have legal authentications.  Many must have an Apostille stamp (when countries have a relationship under the Hague Apostille Convention.)  For more information consult:  https://www.rree.go.cr/?sec=servicios&cat=autenticaciones#

Documents to be used in formal processes in Costa Rica need to have a translation into Spanish by an official translator  authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs http://www.rree.go.cr