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Lawyers do not give up the protection of the state, they threaten with strikes

24 December 2010 / 12:12:30  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The legal profession is among the 160 professions that are expected to be liberalized in the first months of the next year. Most lawyers oppose to this option. A few days ago the President of the plenum of the Bar Associations in Greece Dimitris Paksinos, together with the chairmen of other eight scientific organizations sent an open letter to the Prime Minister George Papandreou. In it they expressed their dissatisfaction with his refusal to meet them, they accuse the press that with the electoral information they release, they are creating negative impressions for entire occupational categories and urged him to be the first to give example for the restoration of good relations among different social classes.

GRReporter sought the opinion of the counsel Maria Kouveli, a board member of the Bar Association in Athens.

Why do you oppose the liberalization of your profession?

First I would like to say that the legal profession is not "closed". Anyone who takes a diploma from law school and it is officially certified may complete his practicum and then pass an examination to become a member of the Bar Association. The reasons why our profession is considered to be closed are three:

First, in our profession is applied the ban on advertising. I think this is absolutely correct. The second reason is that there are territorial limitations with the exception of the cases of criminal law. Attorneys are appointed as such by ministerial order in the respective district courts, therefore, they can not represent clients in the cases seen in other cities. The third reason is that by law have been introduced the so-called minimum statutory compensation. This measure exists in other European countries as well. And I think it's unfair to see in the press only the names of countries where this practice doesn’t exist. I believe they made that choice intentionally to provoke in the public opinion a reaction for the liberalization of our profession.

What are the consequences of the abolition of minimum statutory compensations?

First let me say that they are the lowest in Europe. Their abolition will affect primarily the state itself. Because in the compensation of the attorneys for the performed legal actions is included a tax of 15%, which the state receives on daily basis. Any citizen or his lawyer pays to the treasury of the court that amount before his case is heard. Add to them also 23% VAT, which is paid each quarter. We're talking about losses in millions of euros in an annual plan. The Government revenues only from the district court in Athens for the last year were about 50 million euro.

The majority of lawyers oppose the elimination of these benefits mainly because the reasons for which they were established still exist. The purpose of the measure was to ensure a minimum income for the lawyers.

Moreover, if they are removed, prices of the will attorney fees become even cheaper. Compensation will become subject to an agreement between a lawyer and his client. Thereafter, in this way a dishonest customer might not want to be issued an invoice or a dishonest lawyer might not want to issue it and thus both will not pay taxes, again at the expense of the government revenues.

Last but not least the abolition of the minimum statutory compensations puts in question the survival of the insurance and healthcare fund of the lawyers. 12% of them are going to cover our insurance contributions and membership dues to the Bar Association. I.e. there is the risk of collapse of the lawyers’ Insurance Fund, but also of the independence of the Bar Associations. Because I believe that if we lose our financial independence, we will also lose our freedom of action in regards to claiming rights, etc.

Why do you think is negative the removal of territorial restrictions?

For lawyers and Bar associations is a priority the preservation of preliminary notes, we talked about. The remaining issues are the subject of discussion. What is important to us is that with the imposition of VAT on the one hand and with the abolition of provisional fees on the other the overall character of the legal profession will change. If that happens, we will witness the establishment of law firms by businessmen in which lawyers will work on salary.

As for the ads, I believe that we lawyers are no merchants. The Code, which regulates the profession and our Code of Conduct are laws of the state. We have disciplinary authority, which controls us. By this I mean that the nature of our profession is very far from any type of commercial activity.

It is not difficult to assume that all measures which are on the way to be undertaken ultimately aim at transforming the legal profession in a commercial product.

Do you intend to make a protest against the voting on the bill?

Now I can not say anything because this is a matter of decision of the general authorities. Such a decision has not yet been taken.

Three days ago we sent a letter to the Prime Minister in which we express our dissatisfaction with the measures which the Government is preparing to introduce. And because the bill was introduced in parliament and it is expected the debate on it to start, we are ready to begin protest actions.

Tags: economy lawyers closed professins liberalization
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