Finding an attorney who can help you with your legal needs is no easy task in any country, let alone a country where you may have lived just a short time, perhaps do not speak the local language or may not know many people who could provide you with personal references.
So, how can you find a good attorney in Mexico?
There are certain steps I recommend you take to ensure your likelihood of dealing with someone who will be professional and not defraud you, although there are no guarantees. There is no substitute for a little homework ahead of time.
In Mexico, you need to go to law school to be an attorney, BUT you can go directly from high school so you do not need a four-year degree prior to entering law school. Law school runs three to four years, and you also need to do community service and work in a government office for a minimum of six months and 480 hours (prior law was 600 hours).
There are two terms used for attorneys: Abogado or Licenciado en Derecho. Many people have an advanced degree and are Licenciados but may not be an attorney or have the degree of Licenciado en Derecho. If someone is a Licenciado en Derecho or Abogado they have completed their legal training, done their community service and hold a license to practice called a Cedula.
There are federal Cedulas and state Cedulas. A first step is to do a little research to ensure that your attorney has a Cedula, which is an important prerequisite for practicing. You can use this website to look up federal Cedulas. It has a good search engine to look by name variations and state. The state of Jalisco has a very nice search engine for Cedulas.
At this point you have checked to see if your attorney really is an attorney, but having a Cedula is no guarantee of competence. Laws change, so you want an attorney who stays updated through continuing education. It is not mandatory, though, once you receive your license (Cedula) to practice law as an attorney. You will want to ask additional questions, such as: Do you have a specialty degree, a master’s degree or a diplomado or diploma course? How many and in what subjects? Answers to these questions will give you an idea of what their areas of specialty are and how often they do continuing education.
You can also ask about practice areas and other similar cases they have handled in the past few years. You will want to avoid attorneys who have little or no continuing education after receiving their degree. This is a sign of pure laziness.
Next, you should ask if your attorney belongs to a professional association of attorneys where they encourage continuing education and classes. There are no government bar associations that regulate the profession, as in the U.S., Canada and other countries, only private bar associations called Colegios. Two of the most prestigious Colegios in Mexico are the Barra Mexicana and ANADE Colegio de Abogados. There are smaller Colegios, but many can be quite informal. They just get together for drinks and the focus is not as professional as the two major Colegios. The quality of the classes and teachers is not nearly as high as the two larger Colegios.
Finally, ask a few more questions. Have they been in the same location for many years or do they work out of the trunk of their car or Starbucks with a cell phone and a laptop? Will you know where to find them in the future and will they be in the same place a year from now? A professional attorney will have an office that has been established for years with an administrative assistant, professional equipment, landlines and associates who are able to go to the courts or government offices. Does the attorney have to travel far to attend to matters at government offices? What is their plan to keep you informed and notify you as things come up? The best litigation firms pay for an online service to check party names for lawsuits and case histories if they service a major metropolitan area.
A little homework and due diligence on your part can go a long way to help you find a good attorney in Mexico.