A lawyer talks about the failing of the legal system here

After 30 years as a resident here and a U.S. attorney and C.P.A., at the editor’s request, I make the following observations based on experience of my U.S. tax clients here of the legal system in Costa Rica.

1. It is in the 19th and not 21st century. It needs to be computerized from top to bottom. This costs money. Not doing it costs more and daily increases the time and expense for most clients (and increases the fees for lawyers).

2. There are a few good honest attorneys in Costa Rica. Unfortunately they are outnumbered by the incompetent and lazy ones. Many do not return phone calls promptly — some not at all. And there are, from my experience, a greater percentage of outright criminals here in the legal profession.

3. Discipline of attorneys is woefully inadequate in terms of supervision and punishment with the result that many clients suffer, especially the foreigner.

4. The system takes an excessive amount of time. Cases move slowly — not thru the weeks and months, but most thru the years, I have one client who is involved in probate litigation for 12 years, on a $500,000 estate and the end is not yet in sight. Jokingly, I have said in many cases that the
parties will not live to see the conclusion of the case — again often unfortunately true. Some judges do not devote full time to their duties.
5. The system is not geared to move each case along with due speed at each part of the case. What time deadlines there are, are more often observed in the breach, Many judges will not push each case as rapidly as they can and some not at all. Sanctions for undue delay or frivolous lawsuits are again pathetically nonexistent or inadequate.

Result is uncertainty for the client, the attorneys and the court, with undue delays causing hardship. Many cases take years in Costa Rica which would be decided and finalized in a year in the U.S.

Justice delayed is justice denied, which is all too true in this country.

6. Some fees, particularly by younger less experienced attorneys, are excessive and some even more. The governing body seems to exercise little or no control in this regard, leaving the cheated client with no practical recourse.

7. As a result I advise my clients to do almost everything possible to avoid going into litigation— a very poor settlement is 99 percent of the time better than a great court victory. I have yet to hear any client praise the system —and that speaks for itself.

I hope in the years to come the competent conscientious attorneys will improve the system and prove me wrong.

*Attorney Housman lives in Cuidad Cariari

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