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In many countries the practice of law tends to smack of professional elitism and questionable ethics, often influenced by special interests that push the law into the background. In Cuba, a different peoples model prevails, explains law school graduate Ariel Mantecon, president of the National Organization of Collective Law Offices (ONBC), while speaking on the Round Table program aired by Cuban radio and television on February 28.

Forty-three years ago this institution brought an end to the private practice of law in Cuba. All citizens can access the legal consultations that, in a confidential and specialized way and free of charge, are offered by 1,938 lawyers (57% of them women) at the legal offices created throughout the country. Only 18 of the countrys 169 municipalities are without these offices, due to a lack of adequate facilities or lack of attorneys. However, as a temporary solution, professionals have been assigned to these municipalities to offer this service to their residents.

Alina Balseiro and Lisset Maria Vila, vice-presidents of the ONBCs board of directors; secretary Zaida Cañamero; and board member Alberto Gomez, explained that each year the organization provides legal services to almost a million individuals and legal entities, both Cuban and international. Issues range from the traditional civil, administrative, penal and labor matters to more specialized ones, like bank and commercial issues.

They stressed the need to increase legal consultancy at companies from agricultural and livestock production cooperatives to central State administration institutions. To do this, there are specialized teams in all provinces. Moreover, in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, one of the ONBC units has been devoted exclusively to offer its services to institutions, with successful results. They guarantee the fulfillment of legal regulations and facilitate the work of employers.


Despite the fact that ONBC units have expanded their business hours until 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, few people visit these offices during the extended hours. Theres lack of knowledge in this regard, stressed the board members.

As part of its work, the ONBC has staff that obtains official documents on clients behalf, assistant technicians who, for a reasonable price, request documents and certifications at the Offices for Registry and Last Wishes, Housing departments, the Identity Card Office and other centers. However, they noted a need for more cooperation in this regard on the part of institutions involved.

The officials highlighted that the professional level of ONBC members influences quality: close to 50% are doctors, specialists or have a master degree.

Even so, they receive complaints from the population for different reasons. Among these being not being able to hire the desired lawyer, or going to the law office looking for his or her representative and having to wait until they arrive from fulfilling their jobs at courts. There is also inconformity with the required payments.

With regard to the later, the ONBC officials point out that theres a fixed tariff for each procedure. Contracts for legal services "of which clients receive a copy" specify the price of the service and the rights and obligations of both parties.

The ONBC also has a supervision system that ranges from the head of the team and the director to a provincial group, in charge of monitoring the lawyers efficiency in their work. This is also based on the fulfillment of the lawyers Code of Ethics.

All concerns are received, investigated, and responded to. Nonetheless, the board members say the process needs to improve so clients get the appropriate answers in the shortest amount of time possible.


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