Exchange of Lawyers

Exchange of Lawyers in Europe

Advantages and Recomendations

Study of national law

Although Europe moves towards a tighter single market for goods and services, law still differs from country to country, from region to region, each country keepings its own autonomy. Europe still comprises several legal systems. In this new environment, the legal practitioner has to face and deal with an ever growing amount of cross-border litigation.

Taught and trained in his/her own country, s/he will have to broaden his/her perspective by getting to know legal practices of the other member states. A visiting lawyer should not try to learn all the actual laws of the country he is visiting, but the basic principles of how the system operates. Programmes like ERASMUS, LEONARDO or SOCRATES have helped and are helping the new generation of legal practitioners during their initial schooling, however senior lawyers cannot leave their practice for lengthy training abroad. An alternative solution is the exchange of practitioners which is a high added value performance for the established lawyer and for the citizens and enterprises in Europe as a result.

Study of European Union law

«Awareness of the content of Community law and of structural principles of the Community legal order should not – in spite of the difficulties associated with Community law – be restricted to a small number of specialists. Community law should become the daily fare of all those who advise clients wishing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the internal market »
CD Ehlermann (Former Director General – EC Commission)

Although the exchange of legal practitioners mainly aims at discovering and enlarging the knowledge of a foreign legal system, the opportunity in improving the advocates’ knowledge in EC law should not be put aside.

Linguistical knowledge

The exchange is conditionned by the knowledge of foreign languages, more particularly the language of the firm visited. The business rythm excludes constant repetition of sentences and the intensive use of the dictionary when dealing with a conversation.

Prior to the exchange an intense refreshment in the foreign terminology is strongly recommended The return made on the visit is highly related to the level of knowledge of the foreign language. A practitioner with a basic knowledge of the language will have a basic benefit of his/her stay abroad.

Prior research and preliminary information

The lawyer should inform himself about the basic principles of the legal system of the country he/she visits prior to his/her arrival. Publications containing brief introductions on a specific legal system which are available on the market of legal publications are valuable instruments. This includes the local ethical rules.

Timing of the visit

The lawyer should arrange the visit abroad when there is a lower level of activity in his firm. He should check with the host firm if this period coincides with a lower levels of activity abroad as well in order not to monopolize energies locally and so to be able to find hosts with time to to dedicate themselves more intensivelly to the visit. Times like December (end of the financial year) and June (before the summer holidays) should be avoided.

Targeting the exchange

Prior to the exchange, the advocate should determine, with the host colleague, what problems or fields of the law will be dealt with during the exchange (criminalal law , debt-recovery, EC law, civil law,…) At some point, practical cases (always subject to ethical rules) could be analyzed and discussed for exchange of opinions and ideas. The visitor could be considered as a « partner » or as an « external consultant » to the firm.

The approach is pragmatic: aspects such as : legislation –precedents, types of advices, etc are part of the analysis.

Two-way exchange of general practice of the law

During the course of the visit, advocates should exchange information on day-to-day practices and procedures in both countries. The objective is also to create an international legal culture : e.g. : deadlines (France : 15 days – United kingdom : 14 days (fortnight)), notification (Belgium : Huissier de Justice – United Kingdom : registered letter)), intermediaries (France : avoués (Court of Appeal), etc….)

A broad exchange

Legal professions in Europe are traditionally different and often divided in the various countries (e.g. : France : avocat, avoué, notaire, huissier de justice-UK : solicitors & barristers, Netherlands : advocaat, procureurs,…). See the mobility of lawyers section of the IEL’s Website for further guidance.

It is important that during the course of the exchange the visiting advocate can, as much as possible, closely follow the normal course of a legal action i.e. from the moment the lawyer starts a legal action, on to the registration and service of the writ until the issue of a judgement and the enforcement of it.

It is therefore relevant that the visiting advocate has contact with all intervening parties during the normal course of a legal action. He/she should meet with a legal bailiff, the services of a registrar, a public notary, and any other profession involved in the proceeding in the country. He should also study the level of inter-disciplinarity authorized in the country.

Studying the management of the foreign law firm

The exchange is a valuable opportunity to see how a law office is managed abroad and eventually acquire best-practices to implement in one’s own firm. The visitor will pay particular attention to the size of the firm, the software used by the lawyers, the use of new technologies in the firm, the partnership with other professionals, the legal specialisms and fields of the law considered by the firm, the type of clients, etc…

Visit to the courts

It is recommended to attend a hearing and get through the introduction of the host lawyer to meet preferably with two judges dealing with civil law and commercial law. Discussion with judges should include comparisons with proceedings in the country of origin.

Visit to the local bar association

It is useful to meet with representatives of the local bar association or branch of the Law Society at the local level and national level in order to receive a broad insight into:

– how to become a lawyer in the host country

– the conditions of establishment of lawyers

– to compare the services provided by the host professional authorities to their members as well as

– to evaluate the power of the host professional body.

Visit to the local University

In larger towns, paying a visit to the law faculty of the local university appears to be fruitful in order to learn about the matters studied there by students to obtain the law degree. Discussion with a professor in EC law is a good opportunity to broaden the visitor’s view on that topic on a European-scale.

Visit the Chamber of Commerce

For lawyers specializing in commercial law, business law, company law, etc… it is fully relevant to visit the body representing the local economy and businesses in order to have an overview of the economy of the region, future investments, conditions to invest, facilities provided by public authorities, commercial infrastructure, structure of the economy, etc…

Study of foreign legal terminology

The understanding of terminology when dealing with a foreign case is fundamental. When dealing with a file drafted in a foreign language, the basic need is to understand the legal concepts and instructions hidden behind words. Professional language involves a far more complicated dimension than the day-to-day language learnt on school benches. Legal concepts do not always have the same meaning across borders and do not necessarily refer to the same realities as perceived in the original language. .

The exchange of local practitioners is of prime importance as it enables a visiting advocate to learn the meaning of concepts in practice and difficulties or nuances may be cleared up with the support of the native speaker. It is far more interesting to understand a text than to mechanically translate it.

Study of a foreign law practice

Judicial cooperation in Europe can be improved by the exchange of best practices in the administration and management of the law office. From the management of files to archiving documents, case management system, general accounting and the use of modern technologies, the exchange can become an exceptional « think tank » to get a new savoir-faire eventually tranferable in the visitor’s practice.

The « think tank » dimension of the exchange is particularly relevant to younger lawyers who yet do not have acquired steady work habits and are less reluctant to introduce changes in their day-to-day practice to improve their profitability, effectiveness, quality and gain of time.

Note about the above information: With the help of the Judicial Cooperation Unit of the European Commission, (within the GROTIUS Programme) EUROJURIS proposed to carry out a pilot action on the exchange of legal practitioners in Europe. The project covered the 15 Member States of the EU as each country and legal system was represented by a qualified advocate (Avocat, Advokat, Abogado, Advogado, Rechtsanwalt, Avvocato, Solicitor, Dikigoros, Asianajaja, Advocaat).

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