In Finland, members of the Finnish Bar Association do not hold the monopoly in providing legal services or assisting in court proceedings.
From an attorney’s point of view, the lack of monopoly position is not the main concern as the situation used to be even greater hassle. Before 2013, almost anybody could appear in front of the court and only the court had the power to intervene if the lawyer’s behaviour was inappropriate. No guarantee of qualifications was available and consequently, a good neighbor could assist in one’s case instead of a qualified lawyer.
Obviously the need for restrictions and supervision was justifiable and therefore a law regarding the matter was passed. According to the law, since the beginning of the year 2013, attorneys other than advocates and public legal aid attorneys need a license in order to act as an attorney in the general courts i.e., in District courts, courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
As a consequence of the law, a new group of legal professionals was created and the standards were set higher than earlier. Also the private persons and legal entities derived benefit from the new statute because the quality of the services improved and they could make a written complaint in case they were dissatisfied with their lawyer. And, of course, the Bar members had a smile on their faces as the “laws of the jungle” became stricter.
The licensed lawyer system may sound peculiar to European attorneys since it is one of a kind. Hereinafter I will clarify the basic principles of the system.
Advocate vs. Licensed Lawyer
An Advocate is a member of the Finnish Bar Association, who is subject to the supervision of both the Finnish Bar Association and the Chancellor of Justice of the Government. Advocates are under an obligation to observe proper advocacy conduct. The professional designation of Advocate is restricted only to persons entered on the Roll of Advocates of the Bar Association. Only members of the Bar Association are entitled to use the professional title ‘asianajaja’ in Finnish and ’advokat’ in Swedish.
A Licensed lawyer is a lawyer who has been granted a permit by the Licensed Lawyers Board to act as an attorney. The activities of the Licensed lawyers are monitored in a more or less similar manner as the activities of advocates. Licensed lawyers must also observe similar ethical rules as advocates and public legal aid attorneys.
Requirements to get a license
License to act as an attorney is granted by the Licensed Lawyers Board. In addition to a Master’s degree in law, a Licensed lawyer must have passed the Advocate’s Examination, completed court training or acquired other work experience in the judicial field for at least one year.
The existence of a license may be checked in the register of Licensed lawyers by the name.
Situations when the licence is not required
A license is not required if the lawyer is in a contractual employment relationship or public service employment relationship with the party represented by the lawyer. Nor is a license needed when a lawyer employed by a labor market organization deals with matters related to employment relationships. In addition, undisputed debt matters may still be dealt with by persons other than lawyers. However, close relatives can no longer act as an “attorney” in a court if they do not have a license.
Licensed Lawyers are under supervision only when representing their clients in court. Advocates are under more comprehensive supervision. Advocates are subject to supervision always when they provide legal services (and also on their spare time Advocates need to refrain from any actions that might be considered disgraceful to the Bar or be likely to decrease public confidence therein). In summary, the Licensed Lawyer system has been a baby step towards a better regulation considering provision of legal services. However some problems have remained, namely, the clients are still confused. The system is so complicated that the clients don’t know what the supervision of the Licensed Lawyers covers in practice.
Lukander Ruohola Hto, Finland