How to Become a Lawyer in Mainland Europe After an LL.M.

A law degree can smooth the path to practice and help students gain admission to the bar

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.

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