I was in Budapest last week. The Hungarian Presidency of the EU held a conference on e-Justice, and I spoke about the CCBE’s Find-A-Lawyer project.
I was on a panel covering the legal professions.
On the coach from the hotel to the conference, I sat across the aisle from a German candidate notary (a notary-in-waiting, in other words).
I asked about his life, and found myself unable to choose between the broad Danube snaking under Budapest’s bridges, and his Victorian tale. I was captivated by both.
He was, I would guess, in his mid-thirties, and – although fully qualifed as a notary - he is waiting for a notary’s position. That is because there is a fixed number of notaries in his German region, and he cannot inherit one of these until an existing notarial office-holder retires or dies.
He knows them all, and is watching for the first vacancy. There is a fixed retirement age of 70, and so he is aware of the precise age of every notary approaching that frontier.
He has two candidate notaries ahead of him on the list. He said he hoped he would not inherit through accident or illness, because that would make him feel uncomfortable.
He would probably have to move house on inheriting, but the distances are manageable and he already travels across the region extensively.
He works currently as an agent for another notary, deputising for him in his absence. Although none of the clients are his own, he has freedom to act with them as an independent agent, including following a different course of action to that recommended by his principal.
The notaries shared my panel at the conference, and spoke about their Find-A-Notary scheme. By way of background, lawyers cover everything that notaries do, although not always in the countries where notaries operate; notaries, on the other hand, cover just a handful of areas that lawyers do.
Therefore, our two Find-A schemes are different. Ours includes practice areas, breaking them down into 20 basic domains which will be useful for the citizen.
Theirs has no practice areas, because every notary undertakes all the areas of a notary (aspects of family, property, and company mainly).
Then again, their Find-A scheme has no search against professional title, because notaries do not move across borders. Our Find-A scheme, on the other hand, will enable a citizen to find an English solicitor in, say, Greece or Portugal. There are 40,000 notaries in the EU in 21 Member States, and around 1,000,000 lawyers.
The bailiffs were also part of the panel.
This is strange to our ears, because bailiffs would not generally be considered a legal profession in the UK. Just as the role of a notary in the UK is not very similar to that of a notary on the continent, so the role of a bailiff varies widely.
The website of the International Association of Judicial Officers has fascinating information on the role in each country. The other day, for instance, when a company here in Belgium claimed that I owed them money (all settled now, don’t worry), the first thing I knew, before any proceedings had begun, was a letter from the bailiff (‘huissier’) asking me to pay it.
That is because collection of debts is among a bailiff’s activities in Belgium. They also have a monopoly on the service of documents. In fact, the continental ‘huissiers’ are just as sniffy about their UK cousins, the bailiffs, as the continental notaries are about UK notaries (apart, of course, from scrivener notaries).
To become a bailiff in France, you need roughly the equivalent of a solicitor’s training: a Master’s degree (4 years of university studies) of law, followed by a trainee programme of 2 years’ duration with another bailiff – like our training contract - together with specialised courses organised by the profession.
Then you must pass a professional examination. The candidate must subsequently find a practice where he or she can exercise the profession.
Except for a few rare instances, the candidate buys the right of representation from a predecessor. (More echoes of the Victorian lifestyle here.) The bailiff must be appointed by the Minister of Justice, following a meticulous examination of his or her file.
Wow! It is no surprise that international website quoted above says in a most condescending tone about the profession of bailiff in England and Wales: admission to the profession is not highly regulated.
These are the differences which enrich our lives. I know that if I put ‘love’ and ‘Europe’ in the same sentence, Eurosceptics will find me on Google and bombard me with messages about how we won the war and the EU is dragging the UK to perdition.
But we learn about ourselves from being forced to work together with others, and so understand their solutions to our problems.