The escribano served as a combined clerk of court and notary public in a Spanish municipality. He acted as a member of the ayuntamiento, or town council, but did not have a vote. His duties included keeping minutes for the council and preparing legal documents for the city. Additionally, he maintained municipal records and kept the archives of the ayuntamiento. The escribano had many other responsibilities beside those involving municipal affairs. Foremost among these was his role in the administration of justice. He worked along with the alguacil, or local judge, as an active part of the court. The escribano took testimony from witnesses, served papers, and retained all evidence in pending cases. All documents, judicial records and decisions remained in his possession after a trial. Royal authorities intended that the position be more than that of a secretary, for the escribano had to ensure that the legal affairs of a province remain within the law.
The law that established the position stated that only the Council of the Indies could appoint an escribano. He had to be at least twenty-five years old, have enough education to function in the office, and have served as apprentice to another escribano. No mulattoes or mestizos could be appointed. The escribano received pay for his work based on a posted list of fees. The amounts were generally set by the Audiencia and were, for the most part, nominal. Indians were exempt from payment of the fees, unless they acted together as a community, in which case escribanos could charge them half of the regular amount. The influx of Anglo-Americans into Texas after Mexican independence diminished the role of the escribano in municipal affairs. The difficult task of finding settlers fluent in Spanish prevented the establishment of the position as a vital part of local government.