U.S. Embassy’s list of local lawyers is three years old and inflexible

U.S. expats in legal trouble who seek out the name of a responsible lawyer from the U.S. Embassy staff are not getting the whole story.

The embassy updates the list just every three years, and newcomers and lawyers who might be expert in a current problem have a long wait to be included. The current list has been on the embassy Web site since December 2011.

The U.S. Department of State declines to take any responsibility for the competence of the lawyers on the Web page lists, but staffers still take steps to determine language fluency and licensing. Then a suggested list is sent to the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington.

Under State Department policy, embassy staffers are supposed to send questionnaires to eligible lawyers around the country to see if they wish to be included in the list. An embassy spokesperson has not said that this has been done recently. So basically the list includes those lawyers who thought to contact the embassy and provided the documents staffers there seek: proof on membership in the Colegio de Abogados and a certificate that shows the lawyer is current with the Dirección Nacional de Notariado.

The value of the embassy list is seen in the fact that the lawyer who is second on the list is a well-known figure in the Luis Milanes-Savings Unlimited case and represents about half of the former investors who are seeking to get some of their money back. The lawyer also received a $2 million fee in negotiating a settlement for his client in the Oswaldo Villalobos fraud case.

A new list was supposed to have been submitted to Washington in June. The embassy spokesperson said it would be posted in a few weeks.

The State Department policy provides leeway for the names of lawyers to be taken off the list, but the policy said that at least three separate complaints from three separate individuals is required for this to be considered.

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