If you have spent any time in the legal system in the Republic of Panama, you are painfully aware of the issues. The large law firms, and the successful small firms, with their US-educated lawyers, are the place to go, if you are in need of legal advice, or a litigator. Why ? Because they generally run a tight shop, and you may pay hefty fees, but you do get effective representation.
However, if you go to the third- and fourth-tier lawyers, you are taking an immense risk, because you may not only fail t get your money's worth, you may fall prey to lawyers whose goal is to cheat their foreign clients, and insure that any claims that you may have become a casualty of corruption.
Here's the problem in a nutshell:
(1) Panama subscribes to the diploma privilege, meaning that graduation from law school entitled the individual to admission to the bar; there's no bar examination. The Supreme Court of Justice admits all graduates.
(2) The disciplinary system is non-existent. Attorneys who serve prison terms can actually pick up the pieces, and return to the practice of law when released ! This has to change.
(3) Some individuals, due to Panama's rampant corruption can actually buy a law degree, without attending a single day in law school. No wonder many of them are clueless, when it comes to the rules of procedure and evidence.
(4) Overcharging foreign nationals, in billing, is the rule rather than the exception, with this type of lawyer.
(5) Taking money from opposing lawyers, to delay cases indefinitely, fail to attend hearings or make required filings of pleadings, happens more often than you would expect. Corruption among those lawyers is one of the largest single impediments to obtaining justice in Panama; I know this from personal experience.
Please do not get me wrong; there are plenty of ethical lawyers in Panama, as well as good prosecutors and judges, it is just that the bad apples are so numerous, that attorneys in Panama have a poor reputation, in general, due to the bad actors.
Can the Government of Panama (1) require bar exams, (2) make attendance mandatory to obtain a law degree, (3) beef up the attorney disciplinary process, and (4) crack down on corruption ? We hope so, for otherwise, Panama will continue to remain high, when it comes to Country Risk assessments.