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Rainelda Mata-Kelly gave an interesting and informative talk last Tuesday at the BCP. 

Among the most interesting things she shared was how there got to be so many lawyers in Panama.  According to her, there is about one lawyer for ever 83 people living in Panama.  Lawyers don't go to college, just to a trade school right out of high school.  Some of the newer schools are all online, essentially diploma mills.  There is no such thing as a bar exam in Panama, be the last in your class at the diploma mill and you are fixed for life!  There are several bar associations, membership is not required, no one association is predominant and although the largest one may have an ethical code, non members have no obligation to follow it. So nowhere to complain about unethical lawyer behavior. 

Nonetheless, she responded in answer to a question that a lawyer who charges less than the "mandatory minimum" fees is subject to ethics charges.  (She didn't elaborate by whom, or how they would find out).  This would be per se price fixing in the US under the Sherman Act based on SCOTUS decision in  Goldfarb v Va. State Bar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfarb_v._Virginia_State_Bar.

Imagine that, legalized price fixing! 

So in case you were ever wondering why some of the legal advice you may have received is expensive and relatively worthless, it must have SOMETHING to do with the makeup of the Assemblea.  I wonder what could be the unifying feature? 

She also told some wonderful stories about Noriega.   Everyone was late and missed their orders at the market, but it was well worth it. 

 

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I have done a little further checking on the legal services situation here in Panama. 

The largest association to which R M-K alluded is the Collegio Nacionale de Abogados en Panama. You can go to their website cnapanama.com and get a Google translation of the Minimum Rate of Professional Fees for Lawyers in the Republic of Panama, which was approved by the National Congress of Lawyers (sounds like a trade association meeting to me, not the Assemblea) and published in its official gazette May 21.2001.  The arguments behind that resolution could have been interesting reading!

Here you can find  the list

Now, as R M-K said, anyone who charges less than these fees could be subject to an ethics violation. 

I asked my neighbor, a lawyer, who would complain and to whom if they were charged less than the minimum fees by their lawyer?

The answer, not surprisingly was "other lawyers might complain". 

I asked what would happen if someone complained and the answer was, "they might send them a letter".  Even if they were not a member of that particular association.  Wow, sounds intimidating! 

When I called the Collegio about another matter, one phone did not answer, the second no one spoke English.  They understood my Spanish perfectly but would not take a message, instead asking me to call back repeatedly to see if/when anyone who spoke English was back from lunch.  They do at least list an address...

So, how can one use this information? 

You can compare the prices on the list to the prices that your lawyer is charging for the given service.  If it is greatly in excess, you can at least let it be known that you know about the list and about the ethics policies of the Collegio Nacionale.  Of course, they will probably then tell you either that this is a MINIMUM price list, or that THEIR service was way above the norm and included lots of things that the list does not consider. 

I suppose if they charged you less than the minimum and you got bad or harmful advice, you could complain to the CNAP.   Then they might send a letter to the lawyer, and tell you you should have gone to a lawyer that charged more than the minimum! 

Ultimate answer I suppose is that here is a bit of trivia that probably won't help you in the long run unless you needed more convincing that lawyers are a seedy bunch...here as everywhere else. 

 

 

 

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