Costa Rica International Trade in Legal Services

Costa Rica International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

Ley Orgánica del Colegio de Abogados No. 13 de 28 de octubre de 1941:

Under what title do lawyers practise?

Abogado/a - lawyer

How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?

In Costa Rica, lawyers must obtain a law degree from a recognised university, complete supervised work experience of not less than 150 hours, and pass the Bar Association's legal ethics course and exam.  The candidate can then apply to the Bar Association of Costa Rica for a licence.

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits



Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?

Only Costa Rican lawyers have rights of audience in court and can provide advice on Costa Rican law.

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?

No, but a certificate of residence issued by the Immigration Department is required as part of the registration process

What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

Costa Rican lawyers may work as sole practitioners or in corporations (sociedad anónima, or SA), limited liability companies (sociedad de responsabilidad limitada, SRL or LLC), general
(sociedad en nombre colectivo) and limited partnerships (sociedad en comandita).

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

Costa Rican lawyers must also follow the Professional Duties Code promulgated by the Bar Association of Costa Rica

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

There is no explicit law firm licensing regime which regulates these arrangements.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

The Bar Association of Costa Rica issues licences to individuals.



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

There are no regulatory restrictions on foreign lawyers working on 'fly in/fly out' transactions.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?


Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

Foreign lawyers can advise in Costa Rica only on international law and the laws of the jurisdiction in which the foreign attorney is qualified. A foreign lawyer does not need to obtain a limited licence entitling him/her to offer advisory services in foreign and international law (i.e. become a foreign legal consultant)

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

Not applicable

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

Not applicable

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation? Foreign lawyers can serve as advocates only for international arbitrations; there is no need for a local lawyer to serve as co-counsel. On the other hand, for domestic arbitration, only Costa Rican lawyers are to serve as advocates in the arbitral proceedings.
Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?



Yes.  In order to obtain a full licence to practise law in this jurisdiction, foreign lawyers must apply to the University of Costa Rica to have their law degree assessed as being equivalent to a Costa Rican law degree.  Foreign lawyers also need to sit the Bar Association's legal ethics exam. Once in receipt of all this documentation (including proof of residency), the foreign lawyer can apply for a licence from the Bar Association.


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

There is no explicit foreign law firm licensing regime and foreign law firms will need only to comply with the standard requirements for foreign investors.

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

Regardless of the method of operation, any business requiring a legal representative in Costa Rica must register with the Commercial Section of the National Registry (Registro Nacional), thus becoming a national enterprise and taxpayer for Costa Rican purposes, regardless of the nationality of its owners or of?cers. Foreigners may (i) act as of?cers, directors, partners or trustees in local companies, (ii) make use of negotiable commercial documents and (iii) execute any kind of legal contract. Foreign companies may register branch of?ces, which are only liable for income tax on Costa Rican source income.
Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)

Not applicable

Is there a quota on the number of licences available?

Not applicable

Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?

Not applicable

Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they?

Not beyond the requirements on individual foreign lawyers



Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? There are no additional requirements on law firms beyond those imposed on foreign companies in general.
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? There are no additional limitations on names for foreign law firms beyond those imposed on companies in general.
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL Not applicable


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?


May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?


Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?


Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?




Other useful sources or comments or links

Link to Costa Rican law on lawyers: http://www.abogados.or.cr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=66