The Cumbersome Legal System in a Nutshell
Get ready for the delays, the costs, fees and cumbersome legal system of Panama. Here you find it wise to use an attorney for all kinds of transactions. However it isn't just the attorney you deal with, it is bureaucracy mumbo-jumbo and administrators! Many are like the angry, underpaid, middle managers of other places. They have a little power, so they love to abuse it!
I interviewed a young attorney that is just starting out. The government sets the going rates, you as a lawyer are not to charge less than that rate. Yes, you can charge more as you mature and gain expertise in your chosen field. Locals and expats all think it is too much! However, this young man has yet to even include his personal time in his invoices to his clients.
The young attorney finds it repugnant that so many of the employees in government offices will "expedite" documents for an extra fee (bribe). He feels this is a black mark against his country and people. He said it would be impossible to say he would never do it, but he says it is a last resort. He feels that because it is widely accepted in the legal field to pay for "expedited" papers, it only encourages the people in the various government agencies to keep abusing the laws. All legal papers must be notarized, signatures notarized, many things must be stamped with some form of government approval. Every office is run inefficiently. There is little regard for the persons waiting. They make even attorneys wait, sometimes for hours. Imagine having a budding legal career and being made to wait for up to five hours of your day for one stamp at just one office, and then are approved to go to the next poorly trained, slow, and tedious government office to wait again. Many established attorneys have paralegals do this part of the job. This adds more cost for the clients.
Expenses for these cumbersome runaround stamps and approvals cost a few dollars to hundreds. This is something that an attorney doesn't want to pay out of pocket for obvious reasons. Heaven forbid an urgent need for a Panama City agency stamp! Then the attorney has to hire a courier to get it there or do it himself. Airfare, taxi fares, and that other major expense "TIME" all come into play. Americans and others also must pay to have all documents legally translated from Spanish to English. Only documents in Spanish are legal in Panama, that is why. Reports, searches, taxes, extensions, titles, stamps, notaries, and official seals must be on the right page in the right place for the right purpose and they cost money! Plus there are the difficulties of holidays and various other closures that set back work schedules. The people who do this kind of work are not paid a lot of money so they seem to feel you owe them something more, under the table. If not they will stand around a desk talking or gossiping, some look like they are bored to tears, others like they are mad as hell. It is not a confidence building situation for the people needing things done in a timely manner. In Panama it is often "manana" or tomorrow, no problem come back another day.
Another part of the system is that the client has to provide much of the documentation and have it officially apostilled by their government and all done in 90 days or less. FBI or criminal background checks, proof of income and marriage licenses are just some of the items necessary for visas in Panama. You are advised to have it before you arrive( nothing can be over 90 days old) and get it to an attorney as soon as possible when you get here.
Sometimes it requires an attorney to get a bank account open here. So come prepared. Be aware even the best attorney can be delayed by the system or the exorbitant fees associated with the system. Welcome to Panama.