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ITALY EXPLAINED

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Italy?

Finding legal counsel in Italy is often tricky, especially for foreign residents. Here’s some advice on how to track down the right professional.

Italian courthouse
Finding a lawyer in Italy is notoriously tricky but, with the right guidance, it can be done. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Question: ‘I need to find a lawyer in my Italian region. Where should I look for recommendations?’

Finding good legal representation in Italy is no walk in the park. Ask any Italian about their past experiences with lawyers and they’ll likely give you enough material to write a book of anecdotes. And looking for a good lawyer in the country as a foreign national can be an ordeal worthy of the best Dario Argento film.

The dearth of information available in English and the generally low level of English-language proficiency even among professionals in Italy are just two of the obstacles that can hamper foreign nationals’ hunt for legal counsel.

But if you’re currently searching for a lawyer in Italy, don’t despair. The following resources and advice should aid your efforts and make your research a more bearable experience overall.

Where to look

As with all legal systems in the world, Italian law is divided into different practice areas (immigration law, employment law, real estate, etc.) and it is up to you to identify what legal realm your case falls in. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start looking for the right professional.

Word of mouth is paramount in Italy, so the most immediate course of action will be to ask friends, relatives, or business associates for recommendations.

While this option might hold little promise for those of you who have only recently moved to Italy, readers of The Local may also be able to find leads by asking or searching in our Living in Italy Facebook group.

Of course, it pays to keep in mind that each legal case is different and that a lawyer who is right for someone else may not be suited to your needs.

READ ALSO: 13 essential articles you’ll need when moving to Italy

The next best course of action is browsing the web. While a Google search along the lines of ‘best (whatever practice area) lawyer in (whatever Italian region)” might leave you with more questions than answers, turning to online repositories and search engines might help you greatly. 

If you have a basic knowledge of Italian, the best starting point is the Albo Nazionale Avvocati (National Lawyers Register), which holds the names, credentials and contact info of all accredited Italian practitioners and sorts them by region, comune (municipality) and practice area. Unfortunately, the website isn’t yet available in English. 

Woman typing on keyboard

Online databases and search engines are a good starting point for anyone looking for a lawyer. Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

If your Italian is still così così, there are some English-language search engines that might give your research a good boost. Who’s Who Legal is one of the most reputable legal publications in the world and their search tool is one of the best ones out there.

Alternatively, you can also check out Best Lawyers’ search engine. Best Lawyers is the oldest peer-reviewed publication in the legal field and their databases include some of the most distinguished practitioners in the world.

You can also consult the British government’s ‘Find a professional service abroad’ tool. However, please note that the lists of practitioners provided by the website are in no way an endorsement by the British government and that the admission criteria for lawyers to be included in the database are not very stringent.

If the above databases do not provide the answers you’re seeking, as a last course of action, you might also ask your home country’s Italian embassy to supply you with a list of English-speaking lawyers working in your area. However, yet again, these lists are not intended as recommendations and the admission criteria are generally rather lax. 

A list of English-speaking practitioners provided by the Italian US Embassy is available here.

How to sift through your options

How do I know they’re the right one? That’s the age-old dilemma that haunts lovers and lawyer-seeking folk alike.

Here are a few points to when it comes to picking the best lawyer out of a bunch.

Experience

According to Marco Mazzeschi, founder of Italian immigration law firm Mazzeschi Srl, experience is one of the most important selection criteria.

“In our field, experience matters and, in most cases, it matters a lot,” he says.

“Hiring a professional with 30 or more years of experience and hiring one who’s only been working for five years or so are two very, very different things.”

The level of experience of a lawyer can usually be found on their professional website or LinkedIn page.

Online publications 

According to Mazzeschi, another key quality marker is the amount of publications one has published or has been cited in.

He says: “This is something that clients rarely do but should be done in pretty much any field, not just in the legal world.

“People should verify whether a specific lawyer has been cited in any legal publication or if they have published anything relevant. If so, it’s also important to see what type of publications they’ve been involved with.”

By running some simple Google searches, clients can ascertain the prestige of the publications one has been featured in. Are they peer-reviewed publications? Are they the top journals/magazines in the legal world? These are the types of questions clients should be looking to find the answer to.

Qualifications, awards and certificates

Qualifications are important but they are not everything, Mazzeschi says. “Qualifications, certificates and membership of specific lawyer associations matter but only to a certain extent,” says Mazzeschi.

“They can be a nice add-on but they really shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee that a lawyer is particularly competent or experienced in his area of practice.”

Once again, the advice here is to go online and verify the reputability of the organisations that awarded the qualifications and certificates in question. Ask questions like “Are these organisations distinguished in the legal field?” or “What is their national or international relevance?”.

A lawyer’s qualifications and other credentials are usually listed in the ‘About me’ section of their website and/or their LinkedIn page.

Website 

In plenty of occupational fields, a professional website is the most effective tool for practitioners to showcase their competence and experience in their own line of work. Italian lawyers are no exception.

When scoping out lawyers’ personal websites, pay attention to the overall layout and design of the sites and test their navigability. Approximative websites with hard-to-find information are not a very good marker.

According to Mazzeschi, “It’s very important that a lawyer’s website looks up to date and there’s a dedicated section including recent news stories or updates”. “A regularly updated website is a very relevant quality marker,” he adds.

Response times 

Reactivity is paramount in the legal world (yes, even in Italy). Practitioners are expected to reply to emails and any other type of message within relatively short timeframes. So pay attention to the response times of any lawyer you communicate with.

“Being prompt in responding to clients and seeing to their requests is a must for any lawyer,” says Mazzeschi.

“For instance, if you, as a client, send in a request for information and the professional in question takes a couple of days to get back to you, that’s really not a good sign.”

READ ALSO: The five most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need when moving to Italy

Lawyer speaking on phone

Quick reaction times when communicating with clients is an important quality marker in the legal world. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

I think I’ve found the right profile. What next?

Once you’ve identified the right person for the job, contact them as soon as possible to arrange an initial consultation.

Note that, while some lawyers offer free consultations, others may charge a fee which is usually between 100 and 300 euros.

Regardless of whether they are free or paid-for, consultations are an essential part of the selection process as they’re a golden opportunity for clients to gauge the legal expertise and professionality of their prospective lawyer as well as their command of English. 

According to Mazzeschi, it’s essential that clients do some prep work ahead of any consultation and put together a list of questions that they will ask the relevant practitioner during the appointment.

Such questions should revolve around the lawyer’s success rate (i.e. their track record in cases akin to yours), their availability (how soon can they start the job?) and their estimated delivery time; that is, how long they expect it will take to complete the work. At least one of your questions should also cover pricing. 

How pricing works

There are three different ways in which Italian lawyers can charge their clients: a flat (or fixed) fee, an hourly fee or a contingency fee, i.e. a percentage of the financial compensation resulting from a court arbitration or settlement.

The fee structure depends on the lawyer’s practice area and the tasks they’re entrusted with by their clients. At any rate, you should ensure that your professional of choice is very clear about pricing and billing starting from the first consultation appointment. 

Once you’ve had your consultation, if you’re satisfied with what you’ve seen and the answers you’ve been given, you can proceed to the signing of a contract (mandato). 

Be aware that, in Italian law (article 1703 of the Civil Code), the contractual agreement between a client and their legal counsel can be made orally unless the given assignments require the signing of a written document (for instance, for the sale or purchase of real estate and court proceedings).

Mazzeschi says however that, while oral contracts are allowed in Italy under the ‘principio di libertà della forma’ (right to freedom of form of contract), clients are advised to ask for a written agreement.

That’s because “a written contract clears any potential doubt about the nature of the agreement between the parties and prevents any future misunderstanding between client and provider”.

Man signing a contract

Once you’ve found the right lawyer, ask to sign a written contract. This will save you from potential misunderstandings further down the stretch. Photo by Joe RAEDLE / AFP

Useful vocabulary

By hiring an Italian lawyer and immersing yourself in the country’s legal system, you’re bound to come across a number of technical terms that, depending on your Italian proficiency level, might give you more or less of a headache. 

To help you out, here’s a fairly in-depth glossary of Italian legal terms together with their English translation. The list of Italian terms is not in alphabetical order but a simple on-page search (command + F on Mac) will take you to the word you’re looking for. 

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. Find more articles and guides to navigating life in Italy here.

Member comments

  1. If anyone’s looking for a law firm in Italy that has some English speakers, look no further than Studio Legale Metta: https://www.studiolegalemetta.com/

    I did a consultation with partner Nick Metta and was super impressed, very professional, easy to understand and their website actually had good and updated info in case you’re just looking to do some research instead of a consultation.

    Highly recommend!

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ITALY EXPLAINED

The 7 signs that August has arrived in Italy

While summer holidays are important everywhere, Italy takes the tradition of le vacanze estive particularly seriously. Here's what to expect now that August has arrived.

The 7 signs that August has arrived in Italy

1. Cities are largely deserted

If you’re in a city or town, prepare for it to feel strangely empty away from the obvious tourist destinations.

In Rome, car journeys that once involved a half-hour battle through wild traffic become surprisingly quick and stress-free. And where are the crowds at your usual after-work drinks spot in Milan? Even the smallest towns will be noticeably quieter than usual.

READ ALSO: Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

This is because all sensible Italian residents have packed up and gone to the beach or the mountains for a month. Next year, you’ll know to do the same.

2. But beaches are packed

Italy was a nation of staycationers even before the pandemic, and in August it’s tutti al mare: everyone flees to the beach, or maybe the mountains, at the same time.

Expect resorts to be packed and hotels, Airbnbs and campsites to be fully booked, especially as international tourists return after two years of travel restrictions.

3. Shops have cheery ‘closed for holidays’ signs

Shop workers and owners take time off like everyone else and it’s very common for small independent businesses like bakeries, pharmacies and florists to close for up to a month.

Some will tell you when they expect to reopen, others just put a sign in the window saying ‘chiuso per ferie’ – closed for holidays.

4. The summer sales are (still) on

Those shops that do remain open – mainly large chain stores and supermarkets –  offer discounts throughout August to those dedicated shoppers who aren’t at the beach. Italy only allows two retail sales a year, and one of those runs through July and August.

5. Everyone you email is out of the office

Need to contact anyone urgently at work this month? If they’re in Italy, then too bad.

Office workers are also usually on holiday, and a great many offices close altogether for three or four weeks.

Forget about out-of-office email replies suggesting an alternative contact or that the person will be checking their email sporadically – they will be on the beach and whatever you want can wait until they are back.

This applies to banks and to any kind of government bureaucracy, and you may also have trouble getting medical appointments at this time of year.

There’s only one place to be in Italy in August, as far as many Italians are concerned. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

6. There are ‘red alert’ heat warnings in place

This summer has been an unusually hot one and Italy has already experienced several extreme heatwaves. But as we get into August temperatures will no doubt be high across the board, meaning the country’s health authorities put heat warnings in place on the hottest days and strongly advise people to stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the afternoon.

7. Every major road has a traffic warning

Italy’s state police make good use of the red pen when putting together the official traffic forecast for August. All weekends feature ‘red dot’ traffic warnings as people head off on holiday, or return home.

The final weekend of August, when people head home in time for il rientro (the return to school and work in September) is also best avoided.

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