To find a good lawyer in Medellin you should do your homework beforehand
Here are my six tips to finding a good lawyer/attorney in Medellin:
1) Make sure they are a lawyer and licensed to practice in Colombia.
This might sound really strange, but it is true that there are people who call themselves lawyers in Colombia who aren’t lawyers at all. Licensed attorneys in Colombia must carry what’s called in Spanish the “tarjeta profesional.” This is an ID card that lawyers receive in Colombia when they pass all exams and requirements to practice (like the bar exam in the USA).
PS: It’s a crime in Colombia to represent yourself as a lawyer without actually being a lawyer. If you have any doubt, there is no shame in verifying that your lawyer is licensed to practice law in Colombia. You can do this by asking them for their cédula number and then going to this website: https://sirna.ramajudicial.gov.co/Paginas/Certificado.aspx.
Put their cédula number in “Numero de documento” then “Buscar”. This way you can see their professional qualifications (or not) as a lawyer. This is more common than you may think when looking for a lawyer in Medellin.
2) Ask for references, not just personal, but related to what you need.
There is also no shame in asking your lawyer for references if you doubt their specialty in what you need. Lawyers in Medellin are famous for trying to handle any kind of legal matter you may have. Divorce? That’s me! Tax laws? That’s me too! Not likely. Ask your lawyer in Medellin for their focus areas (should not be a long list) and don’t be afraid to ask for a couple of recent references to verify that your lawyer in Medellin has recent experience in your matter.
3) Do not pay by the hour; you pay to get work/deals done.
Paying per hour is more of an American legal practice. Anyone who tries to charge you by the hour in Colombia doesn’t know how to estimate the work involved (possible for complicated transactions). Or maybe is trying to take advantage of an American who is used to paying per hour. Lawyers in Colombia charge for getting work done. After a meeting, your lawyer should know exactly how much work is involved and put a price on that. Then he will charge you a percentage at the beginning or retainer or at the end when the legal work is successful. Never pay per hour for real estate transactions you are trying to close. Always pay a fixed price and hold back a significant percentage contingent on the lawyer’s ability to actually close deals for you.
TIP: There’s an organization called Conalbos in Colombia which is an association for lawyers across Colombia that posts guidelines for legal fees nationwide. Lawyers in Colombia which deviate from this guide should have a good explanation for it.
4) How many times have you done “X”? Don’t hire a generalist…
Ask your lawyer in Medellin how many times they’ve done (recently) what you need them to do for you. Generalist lawyers are going to use your case to learn something new, while you pay for their time. A good lawyer will tell you when that’s not his area of expertise and refer you to someone else who is an expert. However, you may also trust your lawyer well enough to “figure it out” for you, even if it isn’t his specialty. Also be careful of the lawyers who quote “100s of times” unless they have a lot of grey hair; Colombians have a tendency to exaggerate numbers sometimes, unfortunately.
5) Comfort level. Personality fit, too aggressive? Not enough?
I guess this goes without saying but pick someone you like and are comfortable with. If you get thrown off by a lawyer’s approach or personality after the first consultation, then keep looking. You can find a lot of attorneys in Medellin that know how to handle foreigners.
You probably want to find a lawyer that mirrors your personality a bit. If you’re a go-getter/closer, then find a lawyer who similar to you. He/she will execute the deals you want in a timely manner. If you need time to evaluate options, consider alternatives, and gather more information before you make major decisions. Then find a lawyer in Medellin who understands that and provides you with the data you need. It’s important that your lawyer doesn’t impose any high pressure on your decisions.
6) Are they a lawyer in Medellin or are they trying to sell you something?
This is becoming more and more common with lawyers in Medellin handling foreigners. Is your lawyer just a lawyer? Or is he/she a sales agent for some kind of investment product, real estate referral scheme, etc. As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, I work for a real estate firm (Casacol). I want this firm to be successful, but my job is to provide objective legal advice, not sell real estate. I don’t get paid to sell real estate either.
Maybe your lawyer starts recommending investment products that you’re interested in. Now is probably a good time to hire a 3rd party lawyer to audit those products/contracts. Otherwise, there is a clear conflict of interest. At times, some lawyers need to depend on other sources of referral income in addition to legal fees. If this is the case, perhaps they don’t have a legal practice that is self-sufficient. That may factor into your decisions as well.