It is hard to imagine any reputable property professional who would not advise you to instruct a Spanish lawyer to deal with the conveyance of your new property in Spain, but how do you know which lawyer to choose?
There are thousands of small "Bufetes de Abogados" (Law Firms) to choose from. At a glance they all seem to be offering the same service, so how do you make sure that the one you choose to represent you is the best lawyer for the job?
In this article I will run through the methods I would use to first create a shortlist of potential lawyers.
Then I will go through the questions you need to ask, before instructing them, to make sure that you get the right service and that your investment is in safe, professional hands.
1 .Make sure that your Spanish Lawyer independent
This advice is repeated regularly across the industry. You must make sure that you are dealing with an independent lawyer who is free from any conflicts of interest.
Unfortunately, in my experience, it is still very rare for buyers to instruct a truly independent Lawyer to represent them. I think that this comes down to a simple misunderstanding. When I say that a lawyer is 'independent' I don't just mean that you should avoid using an agents in-house lawyer.
It is very common that a lawyer in Spain will have agreements with Estate Agents to who they offer commission in return for referrals. The lawyer wants to make sure that the agent keeps bringing new business to them and so they will want to avoid upsetting the agent. Sadly this could influence the advice that they give you.
I am not suggesting that the lawyer would deliberately give bad advice and risk their licence, but they may vary the tone and delivery of information in order to downplay a potential issue and not risk costing the Estate Agent a sale.
Also, if you use the lawyer that the agent introduces to you then it is very possible that the vendor has been introduced to the same lawyer. In the UK there would be a professional conflict if the same lawyer represent both parties. In Spain this is not the case and it is not unusual to see the lawyer representing both parties.
In summary, you need to make sure that you find your own lawyer and do not use the lawyer that is introduced to you by anybody who has a vested interest in the transaction.
It is important to choose a lawyer who is local to the area in which you are purchasing.
Obviously, it is convenient if you can easily visit the lawyer's office. If you have chosen the right lawyer then it is likely that you will continue to deal with them for many years . You don't want them to be hours away from where you will be buying the property.
There are however further incentives to stay local.
A local Spanish lawyer will have established relationships with the local notaries and officials. You will find that the way in which the same task is conducted can vary a huge amount across different regions and municipalities. You will find that things will run a lot more smoothly if your lawyer is familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the local Town Hall, the local planning rules and restrictions and knows exactly who to contact to get things done.
In summary, make sure that you select a local lawyer with established local relationships.
3. Social Proof
So you have found a list of lawyers who are independent and local to the area that you want to buy in. How do you start to whittle that list down?
This is where "social proof" becomes invaluable. If you know people in the area, ask them which lawyer they used and ask them to give a candid review of the service they received. Look to see if the lawyer has a Google listing or a Facebook page and see if reviews have been left.
I would be careful about asking strangers in Facebook groups because you cannot be sure what their motivation is for offering a referral.
The SPE Directory allows buyers to leave reviews of the Spanish lawyers they used. It would be very helpful to future buyers if you leave a review of your lawyer when you complete your purchase.
By now you should have a shortlist of independent lawyers in the local area with the best reviews.
It is normal practice for Spanish Lawyers to offer a free initial 30 minute consultation. These days I have seen many lawyers offering consultation by video conferencing or telephone. You can use this free consultation to establish the fine detail of the lawyers suitability.
In the next section I will go through the things that you need to ask the lawyer during this consultation.
4. Initial Consultation
The first three things that you should check with the solicitor are what I would regard to be deal breakers. If the lawyer cannot answer these questions positively then I would not use them.
Check that the Spanish Lawyer:
- Is legally qualified;
- Has professional indemnity insurance;
- Is a member of the Local Colegio de Abogados (rather like the Law Society).
If the lawyer cannot provide evidence of all three of these, then move to the next on your list.
Being able to understand what your Spanish lawyer is telling you is essential. The fact is that 'legalese' is hard enough to understand in your native language, so make sure that your lawyer can communicate with you in your own language. Also make sure that they speak clearly, using terminology that you understand.
Please do not be shy or embarrassed to ask the lawyer to clarify anything they say. If you don't fully understand what they are telling you then you cannot make informed decisions. If you are uncertain, then the whole experience will be unnecessarily stressful.
It is also worth checking how effective the law firms communication is. How quickly do they respond to enquiries or requests for information and how clear is their written communication? Ask them to email you a written summary of the initial consultation (I will talk about this more in the next section).
Unfortunately, I have found that many lawyers in Spain need constant nudging and chasing. If you are using an Estate Agent then they will have to do a lot of this, however, if a lawyer is poor at responding before they have won your business, they will not improve afterwards.
This should not necessarily be a deal breaker. I have dealt with some very good lawyers who are terrible at responding quickly to emails, however my confidence in their legal skill is enough to outweigh that frustration. Remember that in Spain, in general, businesses do not respond to questions as quickly as we have come to expect in the north of Europe and America.
Spanish Lawyer Fees and service
Use the initial consultation to establish exactly what is included in the lawyer's service, exactly what their fees are and make sure that you check for any 'extras' that could be added to the fee.
If the vendor has a mortgage, will the registration of the mortgage cancellation be included in the fee? If you have a mortgage will its notarisation be included? Also ask for the cost of other associated services. How much do they charge for a power of attorney? How much do they charge for wills?
Unfortunately, I have recently been advising a gentleman whose legal bill jumped from an initial quote of around €1500 to almost €4000 once the lawyer added "extras" and taxes.
Ask the lawyer to follow up the consultation with an email confirming the fees and what is included in their service. This will not only give you a written record to look back at if there is any disagreement in the future but will also give you an opportunity to test their communication skills.
My expert guide "How to Budget for Your Perfect Spanish Home Without Making VERY Expensive Mistakes" includes a chapter on legal fees and how to negotiate the best deal.
Choosing the right Spanish Lawyer is a vital first step towards buying a property. You should have made sure that you have identified the lawyer that you want to represent you before you start seriously looking at properties. This way you will be able to move quickly and confidently when you find the right property.
Make sure that you use an independent lawyer with local knowledge and contacts, who can communicate with you clearly and effectively and make sure that you know exactly what they will be doing and how much they will be charging.
THE SPANISH LAWYER DIRECTORY
The SPE DIRECTORY has been created to help you find the right Spanish lawyer to help you. You can search for lawyers by location and can read reviews from previous clients who have already been through the buying process. I encourage you to take a look and to add reviews of any lawyer you use to benefit future buyers.