There are an impressive 160,000 advocates (Rechtsanwälte) registered to practice law in Germany (from the official statistics of the German Bar Association: German Advocates in February 2013). However, that doesn’t mean there are not interesting opportunities for British lawyers who are considering practising law in Germany: Many German companies (have to) negotiate and draft agreements with international business partners in the English language and in quite a large percentage of cases they (have to) accept English law as the governing law for the contractual relationship. This leads to the bizarre situation that a German in-house lawyer and his – let’s say Norwegian – counterpart negotiate the terms of an important agreement, but since they cannot agree on either German or Norwegian law, they use, as a compromise, the laws of England and Wales. Perhaps with Zurich, Switzerland as the place of jurisdiction. I am exaggerating a bit, but not by much. In my 15 years as a business lawyer I have seen clients agree on the strangest (and most impractical) clauses with regards to applicable law and place of jurisdiction. Companies who have access to a qualified English solicitor without having to spend absurd fees for big city law firms have a huge advantage in such negotiations or disputes.
But even outside business and corporate law there is a demand for legal advice from a UK solicitor in Germany. Our law firm receives constant requests with regard to divorces of German-British couples as well as German-British inheritance cases.
Now, what do you need to do if you want to practice in Germany? The Law Society has put together some information here. It is fairly easy for an English solicitor or barrister to provide legal services in Germany as long as he or she remains based in the UK. Those colleagues who want to target the German market more seriously, i.e. who want to open an office in Germany, have to become registered as a “European Lawyer”, which is not very difficult. It does not involve any test. You can find a translation of the relevant German “Law Implementing the Directives of the European Community pertaining to the professional law regulating the legal profession” on the website of the German Bar Association (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer). The biggest practical challenge in most cases is to obtain professional indemnity insurance, but in most cases this can also be resolved.
So, should you venture to advise or represent German clients, we wish you the best of luck! And do feel free to contact us at +49 941 7853053 if you need assistance. Rechtsanwalt Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Managing Partner)
By the way: Cross-Channel-Lawyers organises the following annual workshops:
- Suing Germans made easy – a practical guide for UK solicitors, litigators and debt collectors
- German Business Law for non-Germans – how to successfully contract with German companies
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For more information on the German legal system: the bilingual brochures “Law – Made in Germany” (free download here) as well as “Continental Law” (free download here), published by the German Law Societies explain the basic principles of Continental Law. If you wish to look up specific German legislation you can find central German statutes on the website of the German Department of Justice (here), including an English version of the Code of Civil Procedure. The German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) is available for download here: German_Civil_Code_in_English_language.