Lawyers in Finland

Lawyers in Finland

Legal Professionals

Types of Lawyer

The position is very similar to that of Sweden. The legal profession is unified – no distinction is drawn between lawyers undertaking different areas of work. All practising members of the “official” legal profession are known as advocates (in Swedish advokater), in Finnish this translates as asianajaja (singular) and asianajajat (plural) and they are subject to statutory regulation, under the Finnish Bar Association (F.B.A., see below) (Suomen Asianajajaliitto (Finnish) or Finlands Advokatförbund (Swedish)). Under the Advocates Act 1958 the professional title is protected and the FBA is empowered to supervise activities of asianajajat/advokater . Only members of Finnish Bar Association can use the title.

However it is not necessary to be member of the F.B.A. to carry on legal practice in Finland. Membership merely shows public that the lawyer meets high standards. Those who have passed the law degree are entitled (as are others) to give legal advice.

All professional lawyers (asianajajat) are in private practice. Lawyers employed “in house” cannot be advocates as such employment is considered as contravening doctrine of independence of advokater/asianajajat . Lawyers can practice in partnership or, since April 1992 in a limited company (following the Danish model: i.e. with unlimited responsibility to the client).

There are roughly 12,500 lawyers in Finland. 32% of professional lawyers are employed by the Government; 17% employed by Courts of Justice; 9% working in municipal administration; 23% in commerce; 11% are advocates (i.e. asianajajat); 4% in various organisations; 3% tutoring; 1% other occupations.

The intending lawyer will have to complete a law degree and follow a professional training.


Information about Bailiffs in the European countries is provided here.


Information about Notaries in the European countries is provided here.

Other Issues


Legal Education

There are three universities that run the law degree (Master of Laws (oikeustieteen kandidaatin tutkinto / juris kandidatexamen)) which is necessary for becoming an advokat / asianajaja; the universities of Helsinki, Turku and Lapland. The minimum length of time for completion by a full time student is four and a half years, though generally it takes five to six years. In 1989 the average time of those graduating was six years.

st graduate laws degrees are the Licienciate in Laws (oikeustieteen lisensiaatin tutkinto / juris licentiatexamen) and the Doctor of Laws (oikeustieteen tohtorin tutkinto / juris doktorisexamen). There is also a lower law degree (Diploma in Law) (varanotaarin tutkinto / vicenotarieexamen), which takes two and a half to three years to complete.

The Swedish-speaking Åbo Akademi University offers the Bachelor of Laws programme. Turku and Lapland offer the full curriculum in Finnish. University of Helsinki has the national responsibility to educate Swedish-speaking lawyers, and at least three professorships at the faculty have to be reserved for instruction and research in Swedish. Presently, there are four Swedish chairs.[1]

The Statute regulating Higher Education of 1998 sets out the basic requirements of the Law degree. Each university is then free within the framework thus set out to decide its own curriculum. Legal education is governed more specifically by the Regulation on Law Degrees (Asetus oikeustieteellisistä tutkinnoista) of 1996.
The regulations leave the content and organization of studies to a great extent at the discretion of the universities. Some general guidelines are however included: the studies must be organized so that the oikeusnotaari degree can be taken in three years, oikeustieteen kandidaatti in five years (or two years after oikeusnotaari), oikeustieteen lisensiaatti in two years and oikeustieteen tohtori in four years (or two years after lisensiaatti).[1]

Before 1996 the degree system differed from the current one in that the first lower degree, varanotaari, was separated from the oikeustieteen kandidaatti programme. Students had to apply either to the varanotaari or oikeustieteen kandidaatti degree programmes, and a varanotaari could not move over to the oikeustieteen kandidaatti programme without having passed the entrance examination for that programme. The Regulation of 1996 changed the situation so that all students are now accepted directly to the oikeustieteen kandidaatti programme. Thus the oikeusnotaari is now basically identical with the three first years of the oikeustieteen kandidaatti curriculum. Although students may complete the oikeusnotaari degree, it is very exceptional for a student to finish his/her studies by that degree, since the requirement for both judicial office and advocature is completion of the oikeustieteen kandidaatti degree. Most positions in the civil or municipal service connected with legislation and law also require the oikeustieteen kandidaatti degree although the formal requirements have recently become more lax.

Students have to pass an entrance examination to gain admission to a Finnish law faculty. Each of the three faculties organize the examinations themselves, and the requirements vary between faculties. Contents of the examinations resemble each other in that for each the applicant has to read a number (ranging for the year 2000 from two to four) of books on legal topics. The exams are highly competitive; e.g. in 1999, ca 20 % of the applicants to Helsinki were admitted.

There are some minor exceptions to the obligation to pass the entrance examination, depending on the university. Most notably, Helsinki accepts outside the entrance examination applicants who have completed their upper secondary education in Finland and obtained the Swedish juris kandidat degree in Sweden. The faculties also accept to a varying extent applicants who have completed the varanotaari or oikeusnotaari degree.[2]

The general requirement for participation in the entrance examination is completed upper secondary level education: either matriculation examination, polytechnic degree, or higher vocantional degree. Those who have not completed their upper secondary education may apply for a special permit to participate. Applicants who have completed their upper secondary education abroad have to apply for a permit as well. The examination is conducted in Finnish and Swedish.

Legal Training

This four years practice period includes at least two years being supervised by a law firm and must include successfully passing examinations in deontology and the special regulations affecting lawyers.

Governing Bodies

The Finnish Bar Association is the official body representing the profession in Finland. Membership of this association is compulsoruy for all practising advocates in Finland.

Relevant Legislation

This include the following:
Directive 89/48/EEC
Laki asianajajista annetun lain muuttamisesta/Lag om andring av lagen om advokater [Act of the Amendment of the Advocate’s Act 8/1/93] Statutes of Finland 31/1993

The Advocates Act 1958 (as amended): see below.

The Rules of the Finnish Bar Association: see below.

Author: J Lonbay

The Finnish Bar Association

The Finnish Bar Association is an organization pertaining to public law, which is regulated by The Act on Advocates of 1958. The organization was preceded by a registered association with the same name. All members of both organizations are and always have been lawyers.


The Bar Association has about 1,200 members, who are thus designated “advocates” in Finnish: asianajaja; in Swedish: advokat. Law firms additionally employ 300 associates. Of the advocates, about 50 are municipal public legal advisers. Legal aid offices also employ about 150 legal advisers who are not members of the Bar Association.

In Finland practically anybody can advise on and assist in legal matters, also professionally. However, there are very few such advisers who have not taken a Master of Laws degree.

Practising lawyers who are not members of the Bar Association may perhaps not meet the requirements for an advocate, or may prefer not to submit to the obligations of an advocate. Lawyers who have recently graduated from university, for instance, or lawyers who have just started practising or transferred from other fields of law, do not fulfil the requirements, neither do part-time lawyers. A lawyer who has been dismissed from the Bar Association owing to disciplinary measures can still pursue his profession under other professional title; in this case, however, such a lawyer practises without the obligations of an advocate and outside the supervision of the Bar Association.

Qualifications of an Advocate

Anyone applying for membership in the Bar Association must have completed a Master of Laws degree (LL.M.), entitling him to hold a judicial office, and he must be known to be a person of integrity. Furthermore, he must have several years experience in the legal profession and other judicial duties. He must also pass a special examination covering the basic elements of the legal profession and professional ethics. An advocate must be independent and autonomous in relation to the government and all other quarters with the exception of his client. There are also other qualifications.

Responsibilities of an Advocate and supervision of his practice

In terms of penal or indemnity liability, the responsibility of an advocate does not differ in principal from the responsibility of other citizens. Every advocate must, however, take out a liability insurance covering damages emanating from anything but premeditation or gross negligence. The Bar

Association has established a compensation fund, which can cover damages emanating from an advocate’s criminal conduct.

An advocate has, furthermore, a professional responsibility, in that the Board of the Bar Association must control that advocates fulfil their duties according to professional ethics. This supervision and responsibility materialize through disciplinary actions. Such procedure starts most often with a written complaint. The Chancellor of Justice is informed of the decisions taken by the Bar Association, and he can file appeals regarding these decisions with the Appellate Court of Helsinki.

Professional ethics

Professional legal ethics consist of several ordinances, specific combinations of instructions and legal practice. Disciplinary proceedings relating to the professional supervision of advocates are of importance in this respect also. The basic requirements established for an advocate by the rules of professional ethics are honesty, professional secrecy regarding confidential information of the client, and the preservation of his confidence more generally. An advocate must try to achieve a solution which is most favourable for his client. Regarding these requirements, such a solution is often a reconciliation. The rules governing good professional conduct support efforts to achieve an amicable settlement in various ways.

Grounds for fees

An advocate’s fee for each mandate is determined by the amount and quality of the work required. The degree of difficulty of the mandate and the interest involved are also relevant. Disadvantaged citizens may be granted legal aid, whereby the expenses are covered from public funds. Several insurances include a legal expenses insurance, which may cover the expenses of a legal dispute exceeding the excess of the insured.

Disputes concerning fees

A binding decision in a dispute regarding an advocate’s fee can be issued by a court of law or, should the client so desire, an arbitrational tribune. The institution of arbitrational proceedings will take place before the Board of the Bar Association. The arbitrational tribune consists of members or substitutes of the Board of the Bar Association, or of members of the Boards of local Chapters of the Bar. Disputes can also be taken up by a consumer complaint board, which, however, issues only recommendations.

Advocate law

Lately there has emerged a new field in jurisprudence: advocate law. This is indicated e.g. by the works mentioned in the advocate’s examination (Ylöstalo: The Advocate’s Handbook; Ylöstalo (ed.): Advocate law; and Ylänkö: On the Obligations of an Advocate), and by research on the Bar Association itself (Halila: The Finnish Bar Association as a society). The periodical Defensor Legis has contained several articles within this new field. The periodical is published by the Association, and is the oldest of its kind in the Nordic countries.

Central activities of the Bar Association and its organization

The aims of the Bar Association are

  • to maintain and enhance the responsibility and professional skills of advocates and to develop the activities of the legal profession,
  • to promote solidarity among advocates and their mutual professional interests, and
  • to supervise the professional activities of advocates.

These aims are stipulated in the articles of the Bar Association, which the Ministry of Justice has confirmed by a separate decision. The highest decision-making body of the Bar Association is the delegation, the representatives of which are elected by the local Chapters of the Association in relation to the number of their members. A board consists of a chairman, deputy chairman and seven other members from different parts of the country and representing both linguistic groups. The Disciplinary Board, which deals with the more important matters concerning the supervision of advocates, consists of a chairman and eight members. Two of these members are elected from outside the advocate profession; before their election, the Ministry of Justice will issue an opinion on their suitability. The Board appoints a number of committees to assist it.

The Bar Association has an autonomous position in relation to the government. Decisions in issues regarding membership, matters concerning professional supervision

of advocates, and arbitration awards regarding disputes on fees, are taken as judges decide in litigations.

International co-operation

The international relations of advocates are primarily contacts between law firms and single advocates. An advocate will only in very exceptional cases advise on issues concerning foreign law. Several Finnish law firms, however, are members of corres-ponding international groups. A few firms have subsidiaries abroad.

The international contacts of the Bar Association started in the 1930’s with the Scandinavian Bar Associations, and this co-operation continues to be strong and lively. The Bar Association is a member of the IBA (International Bar Association), UIA (Union Internationale des Avocats) and AIJA (Association Internationale des Jeunes Avocats). As Finland is a member of the Euro-pean Union the Bar Association is also a member of the CCBE (Conseil des Barreaux de la Communauté Européenne). During the last few years contacts have been established with the Baltic countries, especially with the Estonian Bar Association (Eesti Advokatuur).

Source: a brochure of the Bar Association.

The Advocates Act 1958

Section 1 An “advocate” is a person who is registered in the Roll of Advocates as a member of the general Finnish Bar Association.

In the present Act, the Association referred to above, shall be called the “Bar Association”.

Section 2 The by-laws of the Bar Association shall state the following:

1) the name of the Association;

2) the municipality in Finland where the Association is registered;

3) the purpose of the Association;

4) the dues which the members are required to pay and how such dues shall be determined;

5) how the administration of the Association shall be arranged and the period of office of the administration;

6) when the accounts of the Association shall be balanced and how the audit of the accounts and administration shall be arranged;

7) how the Delegation shall be elected and the activities of the same be arranged, as well as when the ordinary meeting of the Delegation shall be arranged and, should several such meetings be arranged, what matters shall be dealt with at each such meeting; (February 28, 1992/197)

8) how any notices to the members of the Association shall be distributed; (February 28 1992/197)

9) how the use of the powers of supervision and discipline concerning the members appertaining to the Board of the Association and the Disciplinary Board shall be arranged; (February 28, 1992/197)

10) how a non-member of the Association shall be reserved the right to submit for arbitration any dispute between himself and a member of the Association in regard to or in connection with the activities of the member as an advocate; and

11) how the assets of the Association shall be used should the Association be disbanded or abolished.

The by-laws of the Association and the amendments of them shall be approved of by the Ministry of Justice. The decision of the Ministry of Justice shall be published in the Statutes of Finland. (February 28, 1992/197)

Section 2a (February 28, 1992/197) The authority to decide in matters regarding the Association belong to a delegation, elected by the members of the Association. Matters related to the Association are dealt with by a board, elected by the Delegation, and the members of the board must be advocates.

Section 3 Only a Finnish citizen resident in Finland who has reached the age of 25 years and who fulfils the following conditions may be accepted as an advocate:

1) he is known to be honest and in respect of his other characteristics and way of life suitable for the profession of advocate;

2) he has passed the academic requirements stipulated in Finland for a judicial office, he has acquired the skills required for practice as an advocate and he has acquired the practical experience stipulated in the by-laws of the Bar Association; and

3) he has full legal capacity.

In accordance with international commitments that have entered into force in Finland a person mentioned under Clause 1, notwithstanding what is stipulated under Clause 1 subparagraph 2, who holds the professional qualifications of an advocate in one of the states belonging to the European Economic Area, may be accepted as an advocate. In such cases the applicant must prove in an examination arranged by the Association, that he is in the possession of sufficient knowledge of Finnish legislation and of the practice of law in Finland. Specific instructions regarding the examinations are given in the decision of the Ministry of Justice regarding the confirmation of the by-laws of the Bar Association. (January 8, 1993/31).

A person who holds a State or municipal office or who is in other service based on an employment relationship in the public sector cannot be an advocate unless the Board of the Bar Association agrees thereto for special reasons. Furthermore, a person who is in the service of another or who is engaged in other gainful employment in a manner which can be presumed to be detrimental to his independence as an advocate shall not be an advocate.

Section 4 The Board of the Association shall have the power to admit the members of the Bar Association. Should an application be rejected, the grounds for such a decision must be given.

The Board shall keep a Roll of Advocates, and an extract thereof must annually be sent to the Ministry of Justice. The Board must keep the Roll for public inspection and everybody has the right to receive a copy of the Roll or a part thereof for a reasonable fee. (February 28, 1992/197)

Section 5 An advocate shall honestly an conscientiously fulfill the tasks entrusted to him and shall adhere to proper advocate practice in all his activities.

It is not allowed to practice law in a company together with anyone else than an other advocate, unless the Board ot the Bar Association grants a permit based upon specific grounds. In a joint-stock company it is allowed to practice law only after a permit has been acquired from the Board of the Bar Association and upon the specific conditions set forth therein. The by-laws of such a joint-stock company can be altered only after a similar permit has been obtained. A shareholder of such a company is responsible for all the obligations emating from a mandate jointly and severally with the company. If a mandate is taken care of by someone who is not a partner practicing the law, or if it is not clear, who is responsible for the mandate, every partner who is active as an advocate is jointly and severally with the company responsible for an obligation, which has emanated while he has held such a position in the company.

An advocate is not, without a specific permit granted by the Board Association, entitled to practice law abroad outside the European Economic Area.

An advocate must keep any funds and other assets of his clients separate from his own assets.

The obligation of advocate to serve as counsel or advocate in a trial ordered by a court of law shall be governed by separate stipulations.

Section 5a (January 8, 1993/31). Anyone who is entitled to practice law in one of the states within the European Economic Area, must, when pursuing a mandate in Finland, use the title which is used in his member state, stated in the language of the said state with a reference to the professional organization where he is a member, or to the court, where he is entitled to appear. When representing a client before a court or an authority and also when pursuing other practice, an advocate must observe the obligation that an advocate has to observe in the state where he comes from, besides those professional rules, that are in force in Finland.

The obligations of the Board of the bar Association to supervise the activities in Finland, mentioned under Clause 1, the existing rules are applicable, as stipulated herein below regarding a member ot the Bar Association. A decision, in which an advocate is declared to have agaist the rules of proper conduct as advocate, the Board of the Bar Association must inform the appropriate authority in the country, where the advocate comes from.

Section 6 The Board the Bar Association shall ensure the advocates fulfill their obligations when appearing in court of before another authority and also in their other activity. An advocate shall be obligated to supply the Board with the information required for his supervision. An advocate shall furthermore permit a person appointed by the Board to carry out an audit in his office should the Board deem this necessary for the exercise of the supervision, and in this context the advocate shall present the documents required for the performance of the audit. A member of the Board and the auditor may not reveal what they have learned in the performance of the supervision about the advocate and his activity without authorization.

Members of the Board shall have the responsibility of a judge when deciding issues pertaining to membership in the Bar Association and when deciding on disciplinary measures directed against advocates.

If the Chancellor of Justice deems that an advocate neglects his duties or is not entitled to serve as an advocate, he shall be empowered to require the Board of the Bar Association to undertake measures in respect of the said advocate. The Board of the Bar Association and the advocate shall be obligated to provide the Chancellor of Justice with any information and accounts required by him in the performance of the duties assigned him under this Act.

Section 6a (February 28, 1992/197) Disciplinary matters are dealt with and decided by the Disciplinary Board. However, the question regarding the disbarring of a member shall be confirmed by the Board.

The Disciplinary Board consists of a chairman and eight other members, elected by the Delegation. Two of the members shall not be advocates, and the Ministry of Justice shall, before the election of such persons, issue an opinion on their suitablity. In other respects, the stipulations on regarding the Board of the Bar Association are applicable when suitable.

Section 7 Should an advocate deliberately commit an injustice in his practice or should he otherwise act in a dishonest manner as an advocate, he must be disbarred from the Association. Should the circumstances be mitigating, he may be cautioned instead of being disbarred. (February 28, 1992/197)

Should an advocate otherwise neglect his obligations as an advocate or act in contradiction with the professional ethics the Board shall admonish or caution him or, should the circumstances be aggravating, disbar him from the Association. (February 28, 1992/197)

Should an advocate no longer fulfill the qualifications set forth in Section 3, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 1, he shall be disbarred from the Association. Should he have commited an act that may discredit the Bar, the procedure stipulated in Paragraph 2 shall apply.

A decision regarding disbarring can be taken with immediate effect. Under specific circumstances a caution can be issued publicly in a certain way, mentioned in the decision. (28th February 1992/197)

Section 8 A person disbarred from membership in the Bar Association may, after three years have passed from the disbarment, on application be accepted as a member of the Association anew.

Section 9 (January 8, 1993/31) An advocate who loses the citizenship of a state mentioned under Section 3 will cease to be a member of the Bar Association and shall be deleted from the Roll of Advocates. The same shall apply to an advocate who no longer has full legal capacity.

If an advocate cease to practice his profession as an advocate or should, for the reason referred to in Section 3, Paragraph 3, he no longer be entitled to serve as an advocate, he shall submit his resignation from the Bar Association. Should he not do so without delay, the Board of Directors shall record that he has resigned from membership in the Association and shall delete him from the Roll of Advocates.

Section 10 Anyone, whose application, based upon Section 3 sub-paragraph 3 of Section 4 sub-paragraph 1 has been rejected or anyone who has been disbarred from the Bar Association or given an official warning or deleted from the Roll of Advocates, is entitled to appeal against the decision of the Board or the Disciplinary Board to the Helsinki Court of Appeal. (January 8, 1993/31)

The Chancellor of Justice shall be entitled to appeal decisions of the Board on matters referred to in Sections 7 and 9 in this Act.

A party who is dissatisfied with a decision shall, at the latest on the thirtieth day following the service of the decision, file a petition of appeal with the Court of Appeal and the decision to the Board of the Bar Association, which shall deliver without delay the petition of appeal with its annexes, together with its own statement, to the Court of Appeal.

Section 11 Should a person who is not an advocate use the professional title of advocate to refer to himself, refer to his office as an advocate’s office, or otherwise announce his professional field in the way that he may erroneously be presumed to be a member of the general Bar Association, he shall be fined.

Charges based upon the act referred to in Paragraph 1 may be instigated by a public prosecutor or the Bar Association.

Section 12 The Bar Association may, by gathering from its members special dues intended for such purposes, establish funds for the pursuit of its goals and for the promotion of the financial security of advocates and their families.

Section 13 The stipulations of this Act shall not restrict the right to serve as a trial attorney or trial counsel.

Section 14 This Act shall enter into force on 1st July 1959; however, the stipulation in Section 11 shall not be applied until 1st December 1959. It shall be the duty of the Ministry of Justice before the entry into force of the Act to appoint 12 suitable persons who agree to such an appointment as members of a temporary Board for the Bar Association. The temporary Board, which shall elect a chairman and a vice-chairman among its members and the mandate of which shall cease at the first ordinary meeting of the Bar Association, shall propose the by-laws of the Bar Association, appoint temporary bodies to undertake the other measures necessary for initiating the activity of the Bar Association when the Act enters into force. The by-laws of the Bar Association shall be ratified before this Act enters into force.

Lawyers in other European Countries



[1] Regulation on Law Degrees [Asetus oikeustieteellisistä tutkinnoista] (86/1996) chapter 1 (4).

[2] Although since the establishment of the oikeusnotaari degree programme it has only been an intermediate degree, those who had previously completed or were studying for the varanotaari degree got by the 1996 Regulation the right to move over to the oikeusnotaari degree programme. The arrangements concerning oikeusnotaarit are relevant to this group of students and, of course, to students graduating from Åbo Akademi University.

[1] Regulation on Law Degrees [Asetus oikeustieteellisistä tutkinnoista] (86/1996) chapter 1 (1-2); Regulation on Universities [Yliopistoasetus] (115/1998) chapter 5 (23).

See Also

Further Reading

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