Law: Free trade in Europe for legal services: A new directive will enable lawyers to practise more easily in member state countries, writes Adam Sage

It has taken many years of negotiations, many frustrating meetings and many angry exchanges. But at last the way is clear for lawyers to transfer their skills and experience from one European country to another.

The European Commission will produce a directive within the next two months enabling, for instance, English solicitors to practise in France without having to undergo the arduous tests that presently accompany such a move.

When the text finally emerges lawyers throughout the European Union will breathe a collective sigh of relief. But nowhere will this be louder than in England.

London has long been pressing for the legal world to be included among those services enjoying the sort of free trade envisaged under the Treaty of Rome. In theory, such measures should help City firms who want to build bigger bases on the continent.

Until recently, however, it has been difficult to persuade bars and law societies in the EU's member states that they should be bound by provisions covering the free movement of goods and services. Lawyers in some countries have argued that their counterparts from other EU states should only be allowed to practise if they become members of the local bar.

This has led to some anomalies. In Paris, for example, qualified English solicitors cannot advise clients or have their names printed on company notepaper unless they are qualified as French avocats and these rules apply even to giants such as Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance. In practice, a majority of solicitors in the larger firms have been in Paris for many years and qualify as members of the local bar by dint of their experience.

Some smaller firms simply ignore the rules in anticipation of the liberalisation that Brussels is certain to order. Nevertheless, the restrictions create tactical problems. Many firms would like to rotate their partners, enabling people to spend a couple of years in Europe and then return to London. But legally, this is difficult. If solicitors arrive from England, they are unlikely to be given permission to practise until they have completed local law exams, a process that takes time and energy.

Peter Kett of Slaughter and May, one of 19 well-known English firms with offices in Paris, says that partners who have not qualified as members of the local bar 'come out as an assistant or collaborator'. He says the French bar has agreed in principle to abolish, or at least reduce, the tests for 'eminent solicitors', but that these measures have yet to be implemented.

Hence the need for a directive from Brussels pointing out that this is not exactly what the founders of the EU had in mind. Until last year, it seemed that such a directive would never see the light of day, with the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Community (CCBE) unable to persuade its members to reach a compromise agreement. But 12 months ago, the French, who had been one of the most obdurate opponents of an accord, accepted the need for liberalisation, paving the way for a crucial breakthrough.

A draft was submitted by the CCBE to the European Commission, which, after assuring itself that governments of the member states supported such a move, agreed to produce the crucial directive. Lawyers had hoped that this would be published this month, but a series of delays has almost certainly postponed its release until December.

The directive should say that solicitors can practise for a few years - probably up to three - in another member state without having to qualify at the local bar. They will only have to take local exams if they want to stay longer.

'It should be possible to solve the problem of rotation of partners,' says Hamish Adamson of the (English) Law Society. But some problems will remain. Although English lawyers will be able to establish themselves in other EU countries more easily, there is no guarantee that they will be able to practise anything other than English law. If, for instance, English solicitors in Paris want to advise a British client trying to buy a French company, they will still be forced to involve a local lawyer, according to Mr Kett.

This might only be a small problem (English lawyers in Paris for less than three years are almost certain to want to ask the advice of French lawyers on important issues anyway) but it could be frustrating on occasions, Mr Kett says.

Equally frustrating is the slow speed at which European bureaucracy works. Even after the directive is published, it will have to be shunted through a series of committees and will probably not come in to force before 1995, perhaps 1996.

Not that this will temper the overall welcome that the legal community will give the directive. John Toulmin QC, an English barrister and president of the CCBE, says: 'It is badly needed.'

His view is echoed by Dominique Gatti, a lawyer in the Paris office of Clifford Chance, now the second biggest law firm in France. She said the firm welcomed all moves towards liberalisation as they would benefit major clients. 'For clients such as Boots and Marks & Spencer, it is clearly best to have lawyers who understand both the French and the English legal system.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before