How To Practice Law In Europe

Becoming a lawyer in an overseas country is not easy, but it can be well worth the reward. In mainland Europe, the legal services markets are diverse and dynamic, with a wide range of career opportunities on offer.

Gaining access to these markets will require jumping through many hoops, but an LL.M. degree can smooth the path to practice. Typically, academic requirements are needed for admission to the bar of an EU country, such as Spain, Germany or the Netherlands.

Practicing law in the Netherlands

The main route to practicing law in the Netherlands starts with a three-year undergraduate law degree, followed by a doctorate degree or master of law, then a legal apprenticeship for another three years.

EU-qualified lawyers can practice some law (such as public international law) and represent clients in arbitration, conciliation and mediation, and appear in court for small claims without being admitted to the Dutch bar.

But to practice law fully in the Netherlands, become a judge or a public prosecutor, you must acquire the so-called “civil effect”. This means obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Dutch law followed by a master’s or doctoral degree in any law.

Non-EU qualified lawyers would need to complete all of the academic requirements, though there may be some course exemptions.

After attending a Dutch law school, you must subsequently follow the three-year Professional Education Programme for the Legal Profession, or Beroepsopleiding Advocaten. The training, completed on-the-job, focuses on practical skills and ethics.

You will also have to take a test (in Dutch) to determine your knowledge of the law.

An LL.M. is “highly recommended” for pursuing a wide range of legal careers in the Netherlands, says Mireille van Eechoud, Education Director at Amsterdam’s Graduate School of Law.

She adds: “Lawyers in the Netherlands generally have a strong international orientation and often work with firms in other countries. Dutch society is open, tolerant…Amsterdam and nearby cities like The Hague and Rotterdam are home to many international and European organizations and multinational companies.”

Practicing law in Spain

To access the legal profession in Spain, you must hold a bachelor’s degree from a university in addition to a master’s degree, such as an LL.M. Then, you will need to carry out a supervised internship in a law firm, or the legal department of a company in Spain. You must also pass an aptitude test, which Spain’s Ministry of Justice runs annually.

Once you are registered with the local bar association, you can practice as a lawyer anywhere in Spain.

Lawyers qualified in another EU country can practice their home country law in Spain, and public international law that is not enforceable in Spain, but must call themselves “legal consultants”. They cannot appear in court, nor use the respected title abogado, the name for Spanish lawyers.

EU-qualified lawyers can requalify as Spanish lawyers if they have an undergraduate degree validated by a Spanish university. Then, they have to do either a legal master’s degree, or take a professional course offered by Spain’s Bar associations, which would take about a year and a half to complete.

There is a Spanish nationality requirement, though it can be waived through an application to the Ministry of Justice.

Patricia Font, Director at the Master of International Commercial Law at Esade Law School in Barcelona, says an LL.M. degree “is not necessary to become a lawyer, but certainty it is helpful”, noting that it provides the international perspective that’s necessary to succeed as a lawyer in today’s globalized era.

“Spain is a unique country because of its multicultural character. It is one of the most attractive countries in Europe for tourism and for international investment,” says Font. “Therefore, practicing law in Spain is especially interesting.”

Practicing law in Germany

In order to practice law in Germany, lawyers need to go through a two-stage qualification process. They must pass the first State Examination (or Staatsexamen, often as part of a university law degree), followed by two years of practical training including rotations at civil and criminal courts, an administrative authority and a law firm, called the Referendariat.

Then, candidates take the second State Examination to become a fully qualified lawyer in Germany, and thus appear in court as a judge, prosecutor or attorney.

EU-qualified lawyers can operate as foreign legal consultants in Germany, but they cannot appear in court or practice German or EU law.

It is possible to be admitted to the German bar as a lawyer admitted in another EU country after three years of professional practice in Germany. Some types of university professors are allowed to practice as lawyers too, if they pass the first Staatsexamen.

“An LL.M. is not mandatory for admission to the bar. However, many law firms see it as proof of an internationally-oriented education,” says Jonathan Schramm, a spokesperson at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg.

“Since the German legal education system is otherwise very national, this can be a clear advantage. It demonstrates farsightedness and can also highlight special expertise in a particular area, [such as] business or medical law.”

He adds that demand for legal services is increasing in Germany due to demographic change in law firms and the judiciary. Due to the protection of legal services in Germany, there are also good earning opportunities as well.

Practicing law in France

The standard route to practicing law in France is studying at law school and taking an examination. This route includes six months of training at the law school with a special focus on statues and professional ethics, then six to eight months working on an individual project, so that students can define their personal choices and prepare for work in France. Law students also complete an internship at a law firm.

Once this training is complete, law students can take the Certificate of Aptitude for the Legal Profession (CAPA) examination. Following successful completion of the CAPA, candidates have to take an oath in front of the Court of Appeal and register with the French bar association. After this, they become fully qualified lawyers or avocats in France.

Lawyers who have qualified in another EU country or Switzerland can practice law in France. Other foreign trained lawyers will need to complete the training program.

American Practicing Law In Germany

Regulation of the legal profession in Germany: overview

by Dr Jochen Lehmann, GÖRG Partnerschaft von Rechtsanwälten mbBA Q&A guide to the regulation of the legal profession in Germany.The Q&A gives a high level overview of the key practical issues including required qualifications for both domestic and foreign legal professionals working in a jurisdiction; common legal professional structures; national regulators, legal professional insurance and client protection; confidentiality and legal professional privilege; legal fees and fee regulation; client money; and notaries.

Professional qualification

1. How many categories of lawyer are there in your jurisdiction?There is only one category of lawyer (Rechtsanwalt). A Rechtsanwalt is a private practice lawyer, advising clients on all legal matters and representing them before authorities and courts or other dispute resolution bodies. The Rechtsanwalt takes part in the administration of justice with the duty to abide by professional ethics principles, especially the principle of independence (section 1, Federal Lawyers’ Act (Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung)). An in-house lawyer (Syndikusrechtsanwalt) is also categorised as a Rechtsanwalt (section 46(2), Federal Lawyers’ Act).German law also recognises the patent lawyer (Patentanwalt). A Patentanwalt is not a fully qualified lawyer, but instead a scientist or engineer with special legal training. A Patentanwalt advises and represents clients in specific fields, especially in proceedings before the patent office or the patent court. Besides this specific area, a Patentanwalt has very limited powers (sections 3-4, Patent Lawyer’s Act (Patentanwaltsordnung)).2. What stages of legal education must be completed to qualify as a lawyer in your jurisdiction?Lawyers must pass two state exams. The first state exam concludes the academic education at university and the second concludes a subsequent two-year traineeship (Rechtsreferendariat). This requirement is the same for private practice and in-house lawyers.Patent lawyers must complete a scientific or technical university degree, gain practical experience and undergo a 34-month legal traineeship.3. What are the requirements to obtain a practising certificate/licence? How often must this be renewed?In addition to the necessary qualifications, lawyers must have sufficient insurance coverage. When these requirements are met, the candidate is automatically admitted to the bar by receiving a written certificate. There is, currently, no requirement to renew the certificate or undergo any further education. While any lawyer is, in principle, obliged to continue their training throughout their professional career, there is no obligation to follow certain courses, a set number of training hours and no monitoring.4. Are there any limitations on lawyers advising throughout your jurisdiction?Lawyers are not limited in their capacity to advise or represent their clients, either geographically or regarding the area of practice.The only exception is the representation of clients in civil proceedings before the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), Germany’s highest court in civil and criminal matters. In this case, the litigating party must appoint a lawyer who is specifically admitted to the Federal Court of Justice.A patent lawyer’s field of practice is generally limited to intellectual and industrial property rights matters.5. Are there any written codes of conduct or handbooks, or rules and/or principles that lawyers are required to abide by?The general rights and duties of a lawyer are codified in the Federal Lawyers’ Act (Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung). This is supplemented by the Rules of Professional Practice (Berufsordnung für Rechtsanwälte), made by the Federal German Bar Association (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer). Together, these regulations set out the basic rules of qualification as a lawyer, the general obligations of a lawyer and the disciplinary powers of the bar associations. Both sets of rules are accessible via the internet. The Federal German Bar Association, for example, makes both available for download in German and English at: .6. What are the key rules governing the legal profession in the jurisdiction?The key legislation is that set out in Question 5.7. Who has the right to conduct litigation in court, and who has rights of audience?

Right to conduct litigation

In principle, a lawyer is entitled to conduct all litigation before any court. The only exception is representing clients in civil proceedings before the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), Germany’s highest court in civil and criminal matters. To conduct these proceedings, the lawyer has to be admitted to the Federal Court of Justice.

Rights of audience

In a civil matter before a local district court, the parties are entitled to conduct the litigation themselves. However, this is only permitted in cases at first instance with an amount in dispute of EUR5,000 or less.In other civil matters, the parties must be represented by a lawyer. In proceedings before the Federal Court of Justice (FCJ), the parties must be represented by a lawyer who has been specifically admitted to the FCJ.Individuals accused in minor criminal matters are entitled to represent themselves. In major cases, such as capital crimes, or cases regarding national security, the accused must be defended by a lawyer (section 140, Code of Criminal Procedure (Strafprozessordnung)).Parties to administrative law proceedings are entitled to conduct proceedings on their own behalf. If a party chooses to be represented, this does not necessarily have to be done by a lawyer. They may choose to be represented, for example, by a law professor, a tax adviser or a union representative (section 67, German Rules of the Administrative Courts (Verwaltungsgerichtsordnung)).

Professional structures

8. How are law firms in your jurisdiction usually organised?German law allows law firms to be organised in various forms. Law firms can be incorporated as a joint stock company or a corporation under foreign law (for example, as a limited liability partnership (LLP) under English law). However, the traditional and still most common forms of organisation are the:

  • Sole practice.
  • Civil law partnership (Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts) (section 705 et seq, Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch)),
  • Registered partnership or LLP under German law (section 1 and the following, German law on registered partnerships (Partnerschaftsgesellschaft)).

Most LLPs will convert into partnerships due to Brexit because it is believed that they will lose their advantage, the limited liability of their partners, and will be treated as civil law partnerships.9. Are multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) allowed in your jurisdiction?

Alternative legal service providers

MDPs are allowed in limited cases. Lawyers are permitted to form MDPs with patent lawyers, tax consultants, tax agents, accountants and certified auditors for the purpose of a common exercise of profession (section 59a, Federal Lawyers’ Act)However, in a recent decision, the Federal Constitutional Court held that this limitation is in breach of the constitutional right to freely pursue professional activities (Bundesverfassungsgericht, decision of 12 January 2016, case no. 1 BvL 6/13). Therefore, MDPs formed of lawyers and, for example, physicians or pharmacists might be possible in the future.

Foreign lawyers

Foreign lawyers can only practise in Germany in accordance with the principles explained in Question 3. Without permission, lawyers cannot advise, in particular on German law, and represent clients in German courts. Foreign law firms can establish a presence in Germany but to fully advise clients the lawyers must qualify in Germany. Foreign law firms enjoy less protection in Germany than German firms do. This was recently established with respect to the searching of premises by the German Federal Constitutional Court. The Court held that the premises of a foreign firm were lawfully searched by a prosecutor to obtain a memo produced for the client of the respective firm.10. Are community and/or alternative legal service providers common? If so, to what restrictions are they subject, if any?Traditionally, the provision of legal services is reserved for lawyers. However, legal services can be provided as a supplementary service to another main profession (section 5, Legal Services Act (Rechtsdienstleistungsgesetz)). This includes, for example, legal advice provided by insurance advisers related to legal aspects of insurance, or by banks related to investment management issues. In addition, section 2(2) of the Legal Services Act allows for the collection of debts (Inkasso) as legal services.Law firms often offer pro bono services to charitable or non-profit organisations. Law students are also allowed to offer pro bono services, subject to certain restrictions.