Sfera Legal Blog


Costa Rica Deserves Quality Attorneys

In December 2015 there were approximately 24,900 active attorneys in Costa Rica. This number, which excludes those who are deceased, suspended, etc., equates to one lawyer for each one hundred and eighty people in the country. That the legal market is completely saturated, but overabundance is not the only issue. What quality of professionals can we guarantee our people?


Also, the matter of notary publics must not be understated, given the vast majority of attorneys are enabled to serve as notaries. This contrasts greatly with other much more reasonable systems. For example, in Spain there are a very limited number of notary publics. Whoever wants to serve as a notary must go through a very rigorous examination process that begins when the candidate gets his degree in law and takes several years. Many don’t make it to the end.

In light of the above, its not uncommon to find critics to quality of our lawyers, and justifiably so. Frankly, there are few filters to get into the legal profession.

The problem is not only a matter of quality. There are not many filters in matters of probity. Even though the Costa Rican Bar Association and the Notary Publics National Direction take on huge enders to supervise our professionals, we constantly hear stories about colleagues with unscrupulous practices that end up being suspended or even criminally sentenced. The ethics courses that are currently required are very superficial. This situation demands a substantial change.

Thankfully, some steps have been taken in the right direction. Since 2004, the minimum conditions to be a notary public were raised. It became mandatory to have a postgraduate specialist degree and at least two years of professional practice. This doesn’t put Costa Rica up to par with other countries that have truly rigorous requirements but it is no doubt an improvement in benefit of the notary public system.

Also, the Costa Rican Bar Association recently instated a bar exam to ensure the quality of professionals before being admitted. This initiative, which should be applauded by lawyers and citizens alike, is a huge step to guarantee that Costa Rican attorneys have a minimum amount of knowledge. Is this enough?

It is tempting to create entry barriers to the legal market and conform with eliminating future competitors. The bar exam is necessary and it having been instated is a good thing, but we shouldn’t stop there. It is easy to ask for a bar exam to be administrated to others, once we have already been admitted to the bar. If what we want is to truly guarantee the quality of attorneys and not just make it more difficult to get in, the next step should be to create periodical requirements that lawyers must meet to keep their license to practice.

In other countries these requirements already exist. For example, in some states of the United States, attorneys are required to undergo continuing education programs. This means that, as a condition to renew his license to practice, a lawyer must get credits for completing a certain number of hours of seminars and courses.

Another possibility is to submit attorneys to periodic evaluation by practice area, given that as professionals develop their practices the usually specialize (or should). This proposal entails that each attorney declare a practice area and get tested every five years to renew his license to practice. This measure could help guarantee, not only that lawyers have a minimum level of proficiency when they are admitted to the bar, but also that throughout their carriers they update their knowledge and continue to be capable professionals.

Admittedly, the periodic testing proposal has not been tried in any other country, at least that I’m aware of. Nonetheless, Costa Rica could break ground by taking its commitment to quality professionals further than others have before.

Costa Rica deserves quality attorneys. Attorneys deserve a market that is not clogged up by those who don’t have the chops to be part of it. Everyone wins with these proposals.

By: José María Pacheco - Associate

Leave a comment