Legal Assistance

The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the Consulates General in Milan, Florence and Naples prepared the following listings of English speaking attorneys as a service to U.S. citizens. The lists are available through the links in the box on the right.

We welcome both favorable and unfavorable comments concerning the performance of the attorneys listed. Such comments will assist us when reviewing the lists every three years.

Only licensed Italian attorneys are permitted to practice before the Italian courts or to give advice on Italian law. However, there are U.S. attorneys in Italy who act as legal consultants on American law.

In choosing a lawyer, the interested party may wish to take jurisdiction into account although qualified Italian attorneys may practice in provinces other than the province in which they reside. There are collection agencies in Italy; however, if litigation is involved, the collection of debts is handled by attorneys.

Service of subpoenas, orders to show cause and other judicial documents is permitted in Italy under the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters which is in force in Italy since January 24, 1982. U.S. consular officers are prohibited by Federal Regulations (22 CFR 92.85) from serving legal process on behalf of private litigants or appointing others to do so, except subpoenas and orders issued by Federal Courts.

For more information, please see:

The following information is provided as a general overview of Italian civil and criminal laws and procedures which can differ greatly from those in the U.S. It is not intended to substitute advice from a lawyer licensed to practice in Italy. For definitive legal guidance and advice, you should consult a lawyer.

Italian Civil Procedures

Italian lawyers are trained and certified under the Italian Bar as U.S. lawyers are.

‘Commercialisti’ are the rough equivalent of CPAs, accountants, auditors, and tax preparers.

Collection agencies do exist, but collection of outstanding debts is handled by attorneys whenever litigation is involved. Reliable credit information can be obtained through Italian banks, their U.S. correspondents, or commercial reporting agencies.

The Italian civil judiciary system is composed of three levels of courts. At the first level, there are 846 Justices of the Peace with limited jurisdiction (e.g. small car accidents, condominium disputes and disputes with limited sums at stake), and 386 tribunals with general jurisdiction. At the second level, there are 29 courts of appeal. The final level is the Italian Supreme Court.

Under the Italian legal system, all parties in a lawsuit must be represented by an attorney licensed to practice in Italy. The Italian language is used throughout all proceedings.
A standard fee is usually paid in advance of any proceedings. The sum varies according to the type of proceeding to be initiated, amounts at stake and the level of court involved. Depending on the nature of the dispute, there are two different ways to initiate a civil lawsuit. Generally, a lawsuit begins when a party (called the “plaintiff”) serves a complaint upon the opposing party (called the “defendant”) summoning the latter to appear before the competent court at a certain day and time. The plaintiff must follow a set of specific rules when determining the date of the first hearing. Subsequent hearings will then be arranged by the judge appointed to the lawsuit. Once the complaint is served upon the defendant, the plaintiff must file the original complaint, along with the accompanying documents with the competent court.

Once the complaint has been filed with the court, the court’s clerk assigns a docket number to the case and assembles the court documentation package, to which the documents of all sides involved will be appended. Moreover, once the defendant is served with the complaint, she or he are notified of the nature of the claims made by the plaintiff and is informed that of a specific time limit to file a reply and contest the allegations made by the plaintiff.

The length of civil proceedings in Italy varies depending on the issues at stake, the nature of the evidence and the legal motions filed by all parties. The average length of proceedings before Justices of the Peace is approximately one to two years. The average length of proceedings before tribunals is approximately three years whereas the average length of proceedings before courts of appeals is approximately two years. Proceedings before the Supreme Court generally last no more than one year.

Italian Criminal Procedures

Criminal procedures begin when the public prosecutor’s office is notified of a crime by the Italian Judicial Police or by any citizen. When the public prosecutor is notified of a crime they are obliged to start the preliminary investigations.

The public prosecutor’s office has a maximum of six months to a year (depending on the nature of the crime) to carry out an investigation on a suspect. If an investigation develops into a very complex case the term for completing the investigation may be extended to between 18 months and 2 years. Timing in the Italian legal system is very different from the American system. Postponements and delays in the investigations are very frequent making it often impossible to predict the timing necessary for the completion of investigations.
After the investigation is completed, the procedure may have various outcomes, as described below.

If the prosecutor determines there is not enough evidence to support the charge(s); he or she can ask the judge in charge of the case to dismiss the case. If the prosecutor determines there is sufficient evidence to support the charge(s), they must notify the suspect, the defense counsel and the crime victim that the investigation is closed and asks the judge to send the case to trial. The judge then sets a date for a preliminary hearing in which the accused can defend her/himself. At the hearing, the judge can decide to close the case without proceeding to a trial or order the case go to trial. If the charges are not dropped, the trial begins.

It is advisable for a victim to appear personally at the first hearing. The court may decide to refund travel expenses for a victim in order to guarantee her/his presence at a particular hearing but only if special circumstances warrant this.

At the end of the debate, the court issues a verdict. The verdict can be appealed before the Court of Appeals and then before the Supreme Court if certain criteria exist.
The length of criminal proceedings in Italy varies depending on the type of crime, the nature of the evidence and the legal motions filed by all parties. The average length of proceedings before courts of appeals is approximately two years. The average length of proceedings before the Supreme Court is approximately one year.

For information on arrests, please see the Arrest of a U.S. Citizen webpage on this website, and the Arrest or Detention of a U.S. Citizen Abroad webpage on the State Department website.

Notarial Services

See our Notarial Services webpage for all information on the services provided by the Embassy and Consulates General.