I sometimes get asked how to file a complaint against a lawyer in Spain. I have found this is not a question lawyers themselves are keen to answer, publicly at least, but I did find one lawyer prepared to give me some tips.
Like every profession all over the world, some Spanish lawyers are outstanding, most are good, and a few are bad. But what I’ve never seen before, at least not on the same scale, was the collusion in the boom years between lawyers and estate agents / developers when it came to conveyancing advice and property sales. If it could happen then, I presume it can still happen now.
Collaboration between estate agents and lawyers can create a conflict of interest for lawyers who are supposed to be protecting their clients whilst trying to keep on the rights side of a good business partner. It’s understandable that lawyers will feel less inclined to create problems for a good source of clients. After all, estate agents can always take their business to a less fastidious lawyer, and see more sales go through quicker as a result.
In the boom years of a decade ago, there was one particularly notorious firm of lawyers based in Marbella on the Costa del Sol that did nothing but rubber stamp sales after charging clients for due diligence, and no doubt was also getting kickbacks from agents and developers. Needless to say, that firm was the legal partner of choice for some of the biggest cowboy estate agents on the coast, and the cause of misery for hundreds of unsuspecting clients.
Which is why it’s important to find an independent lawyer to represent you when buying property in Spain. Estate agents are happy to recommend lawyers in Spain, and most will do so with good intentions, but some won’t, so it’s not worth the risk. To avoid any conflict of interest, find a lawyer through a source other than the people you are buying property from. You could do a lot worse than use one of the lawyers I allow to advertise in my Spanish property service directory.
Filing a complaint against a Spanish lawyer
So, what do to if you need to complain against your lawyer for professional negligence, for example for not doing basic due diligence on your purchase and missing some obvious problems?
The first step is to verify the lawyer is registered (lawyers registered with the Bar Association will have mandatory Professional Indemnity Insurance which can be claimed upon for negligence or malpractice). All lawyers are assigned a practising number which is specific to one of Spain’s 83 Bar Associations / Law Societies.
The ‘Consejo General de la Abogacía Española’ (General Council of Lawyers) represents all 83 Law Societies in Spain. You can look up any registered lawyer at its website using a name and surname and see the lawyer’s practising number, regional Bar Association and general contact details.
“In the business of selling property to foreign buyers and legal service for foreign clients it is not hard to find unqualified imposters posing as lawyers when they are not registered to practise,” my lawyer friend tells me. “They label themselves with fancy names such as: “legal executive, jurista, paralegal, asesor legal, licenciado, legal advisor etc.”. As a general rule, anyone who does not clearly identify themselves using the word ‘abogado’ should be held suspect.
Steps to make a complaint against a lawyer in Spain
- Find out before which specific Bar Association he/she is registered in. He/she could be registered in more than one.
- Contact the provincial Bar Association and lodge a formal complaint. It is recommended a second lawyer represents you filing this formal complaint as specific Deontological rules should be quoted as having being breached.
- The Bar Association normally contacts the lawyer to hear allegations and then rules if there has been some breach of conduct or not.
- If the ruling is negative, it can be appealed (recurso de alzada) to a higher regional instance such as the Consejo Andaluz de Colegios de Abogados (with jurisdiction is exclusive to the region of Andalusia only).
Criminal/Civil case against a lawyer in Spain
In more serious cases, civil or criminal proceedings may be called for, in which case you will definitely need to hire a lawyer. In a criminal case against a registered lawyer, it is mandatory the lawyer filing the criminal case contacts first the Bar Association (simply a formal procedure) of which the accused lawyer is a member of to obtain some mediation (prior to filing the criminal case) from the dean of the Bar Association himself/herself. Regardless on the outcome of the mediation, the criminal lawyer is now free to formally instigate criminal proceedings against the lawyer before a Criminal Court.