Jonathan Goldsmith is the Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which represents over 700,000 European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. The business of finding a lawyer in another EU country, and hopefully a competent one with experience in the field you want, has recently come to the top of the agenda.First, this is a problem for criminal defence lawyers. There are more criminal cases with a cross-border element, as people move around Europe in greater numbers. And the European Arrest Warrant has kicked in, abolishing extradition and reducing considerably the amount of time that it takes to send suspects to another country. This has put pressure on criminal defence lawyers to have contacts with lawyers in other EU Member States. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is currently engaged in a European Commission-funded project to suggest a pilot scheme whereby criminal defence lawyers can become involved in cross-border networks, in a climate which has seen more resources over recent years going to the prosecution. The hope is that, if you urgently need to find a criminal defence lawyer in Bulgaria or Portugal who speaks English, you could do that more easily than at present. And then along comes European e-Justice. The commission will be launching an e-Justice portal in mid-December this year. It will contain a great deal of information for citizens on their rights. The commission has also decided that it will contain a ‘search a lawyer’ function. This sounds great news. It is great news. Nearly all countries have national bars with electronic directories of lawyers, and these databases will be linked up through a central portal, which already exists on the CCBE website. But the easy part stops at this point. Many of the databases are only in their national language. Some list by name, others by geographical location. Some list practice areas and languages spoken by lawyers, others do not. And in any case, what is a practice area? Something for which you have ticked a box because you are interested in expanding into that kind of work, or something for which the bar has certified that you are an expert? In other words, a European citizen using a search function which links the various national directories will meet challenges along the way. The solutions are not easy. Each bar has invested a large sum of money in its database. Changing the fields or the navigation, or even translating the search instructions into other languages, may not be what they would choose to do, particularly in these hard-pressed times. Creating a new Europe-wide database is out of the question, since the national bars are the obvious repositories of lawyer information: it is they that admit to the profession, have information about changes of address, and so on. The maintenance of a database of its lawyers is one of the core functions of a bar. It is possible to see legal education, discipline, ethics and the other functions of a bar as routes for getting onto the database in the first place, and then staying on it or coming off. Yet it is never talked about publicly. It is one of those desperately unsexy topics that is taken for granted, while we get very excited about money laundering or legal aid. I am reminded of the structure of the cosmetics industry, where 80% (or whatever) of the profits come from a common-or-garden powder puff that no one ever promotes, while all eyes are on exciting new perfumes that generate little profit. The lawyers’ database maintained by the Law Society and other European bars is our powder puff, without which none of the rest would be possible. We have to face the fact that the commission wants European citizens to find lawyers in another jurisdiction in an easy manner. That is obviously good for citizens, but also good for lawyers, since we need to find out about our colleagues elsewhere. Reaching that goal is going to be one of the challenges of the coming years.
Finding a lawyer in Lapland or Lampedusa